Travel | September 22, 2021 11:46 am

A Major European Destination Just Banished Airbnb. Will Others Follow Suit?

A recent crackdown in this popular Spanish city portends stronger laws against short-term rentals across the continent

A small store, apartment and a bicycle in Barcelona, a city that has started to crack down on Airbnb listings
An influx of tourists has made quiet streets in Barcelona difficult to find
Rhiannon Elliott / Unsplash

While travel to Europe has been heavily disrupted by COVID-19, there’s another obstacle waiting for potential visitors: You may not find a cheap Airbnb.

As reported by The New York Times, Barcelona is the first major city in Europe to forbid short-term private room rentals. The new laws, which went into effect on Aug. 6, do allow owners to rent entire apartments if they hold the appropriate license.

City officials cite housing problems and excessive tourism behind the need for the crackdown. But critics suggest the housing rules levy “unjustifiably” heavy fines against hosts and cut out an important income source for residents.

“We are very happy that people come to Barcelona and enjoy Barcelona because we love our city and we want to share it — but we need rules and we need balance,” as Janet Sanz, Barcelona’s deputy mayor, told the Times. “People in Barcelona can still rent out a room for a year to a student coming from abroad. But for less than 31 days, it’s such a tricky market to regulate that, from now on, we have to stop it.”

There is, or was, a lot of demand — in 2016, just seven years after Airbnb launched in Barcelona, there were 20,000 Airbnb listings; as of July (before the new crackdown), there were over 16,000, according to the independent site Inside Airbnb. And just before the pandemic hit, the city hosted over 21 million overnight visitors in 2019 (the figures for the past two years have been understandably much lower).

A wave of anti-tourism protests, a large increase in rent prices in popular Airbnb neighborhoods and the election of Ada Colau as Barcelona’s mayor have contributed to the recent rulings. Airbnb itself, while protesting the new laws, has claimed they’ve already removed over 7,000 listings from the city that break the new regulations.

Will others follow suit? Barcelona is currently part of an association of 22 European cities calling for a new “legislative framework for the Digital Single Market, which will ensure that holiday rental platforms are obliged to share relevant data with city administrations.” Meaning: Expect more major metropolises in Europe to demand potentially damning data from sites like Airbnb and impose stronger short-term rental laws in the near future, especially if and when travel gets back to 2019 levels.