Saturday, April 29, 2017

Aptur: Here, There, Everywhere

Mallorca is awash with associations for one thing or another, but there are few which command as much attention as Aptur. Defenders of holiday rentals, there is barely a day when the association isn't in the news.

This past week has seen Aptur accuse the environmentalists Terraferida of "criminalising" holiday rentals, gather the support of various other associations, hold a meeting with the hoteliers and announce its satisfaction at a court ruling on some islands in the Atlantic. Aptur is as ubiquitous as the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation and as prolific as the number of illegal rentals.

The attack on Terraferida resulted from the environmentalists repeating for Ibiza what they had done with Mallorca. They produced a map of Airbnb properties. Aptur said the figures which Terraferida came up with were not valid, as they didn't correspond to Airbnb. The environmentalists were engaging in demagoguery and using data which did not show the reality and were being used in seeking to criminalise rentals.

Whatever Aptur thought, Terraferida stuck to their guns. In Ibiza and Formentera, Airbnb has over 4,700 rentals with almost 27,000 places. The turnover on these last year was more than 92 million euros. Regardless of the accuracy or otherwise of its data, the presentation of these maps is an indication of how tense the arguments are and how divided opinion is.

One of Aptur's problems is that it doesn't currently derive a huge amount of support where it really matters. Despite the hoteliers criticising the planned rentals' legislation, it is evident that the government wants to curb rentals as much as possible. If it didn't, there wouldn't be the limit on the number of places which the legislation envisages making available, there wouldn't be the tight stipulations to be made on standards and there wouldn't be zoning (more of that below).

In addition to the government, Aptur also lacks the support of the unions. They may have their issues with the hoteliers, but they certainly don't buy the argument that rentals generate masses of jobs or secure ones. In an effort to show support, Aptur announced that various other associations are backing it: ones that would be expected to do so, such as the car-rentals' association.

Where Aptur can also count on some support is with the public, but the survey by the university found that there was only just over 50% support in Mallorca, while in Ibiza - with its great problems with accommodation - only 36% were in favour. Society is split, but it is an issue that is of vital importance to much of local society. There was, meanwhile, some evidence that society is taking note of the threat of fines up to 40,000 euros. It was reported that there is a "stampede" of owners removing property adverts from Airbnb and other websites.

Aptur countered this by saying that it is perfectly legal to rent to tourists. Which is true under the provisions of the tenancy act, but the very fact that Aptur mentioned tourists undermined its argument. Tenancy act rentals cannot be advertised as being for tourist purposes, yet this is exactly what they are and they are let out to tourists courtesy of what many now appreciate is a loophole that needs addressing.

The meeting between Aptur and the hoteliers was unusual in that there was an attempt to seek out some common ground. They agreed to try and define a tourism model based on quality and to create a working group for dialogue. As a first step, Inma Benito of the hoteliers has asked Aptur to make a proposal regarding the regulation of rentals in apartment blocks.

While this sounded all very reasonable, it was difficult to figure out the timing. Whatever either party suggests, the government is on the point of legislating. Quite what difference this working party will make is anyone's guess. Moreover, things weren't as conciliatory as this suggested. Benito repeated the threat of hoteliers converting hotels into apartments as a way of countering the threat from rentals. Implicit to this threat is that there would be job losses, hence why the unions are so concerned about rentals. There are some 150,000 jobs that rely on the hotel sector. Rentals of whatever type wouldn't come close to creating that level of employment.

Then came the ruling of the High Court in the Canaries, which annulled the concept of zoning for rentals in those islands on the grounds that it represented an infringement on freedom of competition and services. Even though the zoning scheme in the Balearics differs to that in the Canaries, the court's judgement does affect the principle. The Balearic government will surely have to take note, as its zoning will doubtless end up in court as well and an appeal against it will have the precedent of a decision in a different court.

With this ruling, Aptur may just have found a strong ally - the courts. And it can add to the courts the National Competition Commission, which is liberal on most matters, including Airbnb and rentals.

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