While we await with great interest what the Balearic government will be proposing with its holiday rentals' legislation, tourism minister Biel Barceló must be keeping a close eye on what is going on in Barcelona. That city, which some time ago opened what amounts to all-out war against accommodation websites, has caused a stir that captured headlines a few days ago - fines of 600,000 euros on both Airbnb and HomeAway. But there was more lurking behind those headlines. Airbnb are accused of having 3,812 advertisements for unlicensed accommodation; HomeAway of having 1,744. Mayor Ada Colau is blunt in her opinion: "It is unacceptable to have thousands of tourist apartments without licences and in an illegal form, without paying taxes and with causing harm to resident communities."
Both these websites, as far as Barcelona is concerned, have failed to collaborate with the town hall (a neat take on the so-called collaborative economy they profess to represent), but it isn't only the town hall which is taking aim at them. Activist groups are openly accusing Airbnb of pretending that profiles of hosts match those of people who rent out in order to make ends meet and pay the mortgage. However, the great majority of adverts are for large owners, the activists claim, and they reckon that Airbnb is also giving instructions on how hosts can avoid inspections.
Activists' accusations about Airbnb in Barcelona aren't new. These groups can now, though, feel bolstered by the latest fines that the town hall has dished out and the size of the fines. The Colau administration and the activists are basically singing from the same hymn sheet.
Airbnb will be appealing against the fine (as will be HomeAway). It appealed when it previously received a 30,000 euros fine, but given that it is now - as it were - a serial offender, Barcelona has slapped the maximum fine that Catalonia's tourism law permits. The Airbnb response, which almost acknowledges that there are no grounds for appeal, has sought a defence by saying that Barcelona is the only city to be fining it. While it then goes on to speak of the economic value derived from the "collaborative" accommodation economy in a city such as Barcelona, it doesn't - as has been observed - mention the absence of benefit, i.e. tax that isn't being paid.
Belinda Johnson, Airbnb's chief business affairs and legal officer, was reported the other day as saying that the company looks to work hand in hand with local authorities - by collaborating with them, in other words - but in Barcelona this isn't the case. The attitude of the town hall may not be to Airbnb's liking, it may not be like other cities, but the town hall has every right to adopt the measures it is. Colau is putting all sorts of tourist noses out of joint, but on this there is clearly a great deal of support for her action. And more websites are finding out that Barcelona is brooking no argument: TripAdvisor is one of nine to be levied with the basic 30,000 euros fine that Airbnb had appealed.
All this will not have gone unnoticed by the Balearic tourism ministry or, one fancies, by Palma town hall.