Saturday, January 21, 2017

Madrid Discovers Holiday Rentals

Matilde Asián, the still new secretary of state for tourism, has got off on the right foot: where the hoteliers are concerned, anyway, for whom she's proving to be as good as her word. Soon into her new position she let it be known that the national government was considering a U-turn on holiday rentals. Having left regulation up to the regions, the time had arrived for Madrid to get involved.

This followed a meeting with the president of the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, Inma Benito, who had herself been mentioned as a possible secretary of state. What has become apparent since that meeting is that Benito is playing a role broader than just representing the island's considerable hotel interests. Mallorca's federation is the most powerful of the hotel lobby groups, and Mallorca is leading the charge in Madrid for action.

Asián was at a gathering before the Fitur fair got under way which demonstrated the power of the Mallorcan/Balearic lobby. Globalia, Iberostar, Palladium, Piñero, Riu were all represented. Such is the strength of the hotel industry in the Balearics that an entirely different five could line up without any loss of power. She assured them that she will be pushing for state legislation that will not just remove confusion created by regional rentals' regulations, it will also control rentals.

What sort of legislation might emerge? Given some of the talk in Madrid, not least by former foreign affairs minister Abel Matutes, the boss of Palladium, one target could be Airbnb and its ilk. For Spain to introduce legislation that controls the collaborative economy (if only for accommodation) would be a giant step. It would be a far from easy step as well. There would be Brussels and the National Competition Commission to answer to for starters.

There again, no one surely disputes the rights of websites to promote accommodation, so long as it's legal. Tough legislation targeting illegal offer is a different matter. The weight of a state behind it would go well beyond regional efforts to tackle the illegal supply.

It is curious that the right and the left are basically in agreement on all this. They come from different points of view - in simplistic terms, defending the hoteliers or defending residential communities - but the objective is the same. Airbnb can defend itself all it likes by applying definitions, e.g. it doesn't offer "tourist" accommodation because it is merely a form of go-between, but if this is the case, then why did it announce an intention for business development in tourist resorts and not just in cities? Fundamentally, if it (and others) permit the promotion of illegal properties, they deserve anything that might come their way.

Although Asián says she's keen to remove confusion, it's debatable how much she will do this, given that regions either have legislated or are in the process of doing so. The Balearic legislation, the draft for which has received a bombardment of objections from all sides, will not just establish a framework for the regions it will also devolve powers for implementation to the island councils.

So as and when Madrid introduces its legislation, how will it impact on what's already in place? Biel Barceló says that it will be important for Madrid to clarify what powers the regions have, which is a reasonable observation, as the result of Madrid becoming involved could have precisely the opposite effect to that which Asián intends.

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