Saturday, October 01, 2016

Hotelier And Airbnb Wars

The Balearic High Court has not dismissed the Majorca Hoteliers Federation's appeal for judicial review of the tourist tax legislation. A reason for having believed it would was that the same court had dismissed a similar appeal against the old ecotax. There was precedence, therefore. It would be interesting to know what the court has discovered this time to rule the appeal admissible. We may in due course find out.

How much of a spanner this puts in the works will not be immediately apparent. There may be none. The hoteliers, as the appellant, will be asked by the court to formally instruct an appeal once all the documentation related to the processing of the legislation has been delivered. One imagines that the federation will do this. Meanwhile, legal services, one guesses, will be chewing over what there might be in the text of the law (and its processing) to have persuaded the court to rule admissibility. Podemos, typically strident in voicing contempt of the hoteliers' appeal, have suggested they would assist the government in any "emergency" decree to shore up any weaknesses.

This is where one enters the complexities of the legislative system. Unrelated to tourism, a similar system arose with the previous government's trilingual teaching scheme. The courts ruled that procedure for its implementation had not been complied with correctly. The then government of the Partido Popular, arguing this was an administrative technicality, rushed in a decree to ensure that the scheme could proceed. It was this as much as anything which led to the lengthy teachers' strike: the government was perceived to have been acting in a high-handed manner in going against the courts.

Were something similar to arise now, there is no one to go on strike, but - and for the moment it is speculation - a federation riposte may be to call for "precautionary measures". Inma Benito, the president, has implied that the federation would not seek these. Not at the moment anyway. If the judge were to rule in favour of any such demand, the tax could be suspended, pending the full judicial review. The consequences would be chaotic.

An emergency decree might be sufficient to stop the appeal in its tracks, but even if it were to be, one wouldn't then rule out the federation making a further challenge. The whole affair seems destined for all-out war.

There's ever more on the related issue of saturation and holiday rentals. Quite by coincidence, the day after writing the article "Is Airbnb The Real Scourge" came a report of actions by anti-Airbnb protesters in Barcelona. They occupied a building where they say the apartments are all illegal tourist lets and pointed out that an owner of one has twelve in all in the city.

The political atmosphere in Barcelona regarding lets is more heated than in Mallorca, and so it is more likely to give rise to such protests (there was also one against "Harmony Of The Seas"). But Barcelona is acting as a lead for others - here and in other European cities - and one can begin to understand that the protesters may have a legitimate point. They argue that far from Airbnb (taken as shorthand to refer to other such sites as well) promoting the so-called collaborative economy, it is fostering a speculative economy that is based on tourist accommodation, a great deal of it illegal. They have some curious allies in this thinking, such as Exceltur, the alliance for touristic excellence, of which leading Mallorcan hoteliers are members.

The Barcelona protesters insist that Airbnb knows full well what is licensed and what isn't, but chooses to ignore the distinction to its own benefit and to the benefits of multiple property owners. The company says that 73% of those who advertise their properties only have the one (which does leave 27% who have more) and that the city's economy benefits to the tune of 740 million euros per annum because of its activities.

The reverse of this percentage, at least where Mallorca is concerned and according to Exceltur, is that 70% of owners have more than one property that is being promoted via Airbnb or other sites.

Who's right and who's wrong in all this? It's another war.

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