Since taking mayoral office in May, Ada Colau has kept her pledge to curb the boom in visitor numbers and stop the proliferation of unlicensed cheap tourism accommodation.
Fuelled by neighbourhood groups protesting about being overrun with noisy tourists and complaints that locals are being priced out of property turned over to short holiday lets, the mayor is taking a stand.
After placing a moratorium on licenses for new hostels and hotels, the anti-austerity mayor is now targeting sites that offer tourist home stays such as Airbnb and Booking.com.
She has called on the rental websites to hand over information on property owners offering rooms through their site and wants to them to instead transform them into social housing or pay a fine.
Under a new proposal Colau is threatening to fine Airbnb type platforms if they market apartments from properties that do not appear on the Catalan tourism register.
“Everybody must comply with the same game rules,” Colau said this week, according to a report in Reuters.
Ada Colau won the most seats in the municipal election in May 2015 Photo: AFP
“An internet platform cannot become a means to thwart the regulations and to shelter illegal tourist apartments. In that case we do have to intervene very forcefully,” she said from Barcelona city hall.
But Airbnb has branded the move a “backward step” and wants authorities to instead work with them to clarify regulations and also impose a tax for the good of all parties.
“This latest announcement by City Hall is a step backwards for local residents and causes further confusion for people who share their homes,” a spokesman from Airbnb told The Local.
Airbnb complains that Barcelona City hall appears to be working at odds with the Government of Catalonia (the Generalitat) to regularize alternative accommodation to hotels.
“It comes just weeks after the Generalitat said it would embrace home sharing and innovative forms of tourism,”
The California-based website that connects householders with potential renters believes that the existing rules are too confusing and need updating to embrace the new kind of tourism that has made Barcelona Spain's most popular tourist destination and Airbnb's third biggest market in Europe.
“Home sharing is different to other forms of accommodation in Barcelona and needs its own clear rules. The rules currently being applied to home sharing were designed for a different industry and a different era – they don’t fit this new kind of activity,” Airbnb told The Local.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/AFP
“Barcelona should be introducing smart policies to support local residents – not acting against them. They should follow the example of cities like London, Paris and Amsterdam, who have introduced clear, modern rules for home sharing,” explained Airbnb.
On Tuesday, Airbnb announced that in Paris from October it will begin to automatically collect the tourism taxes from guests and remitting them directly to the Parisian City Hall on behalf of hosts.
The move simplifies the process that previously relied on hosts having to collect the tax individually and then pay it on.
The tourism tax will appear on Airbnb guest receipts for the amount of €0.83 euro ($0.95) per person per night.
“We want to work with everyone in Barcelona and Catalonia to end this confusion for local residents and to implement simple and modern rules for local residents who share their homes,” the company said.
Last year 27 million tourists descended on Barcelona and during the first half of 2015 the number of tourists have broken records.
The tourism provides nearly 400,000 jobs in Catalonia, 13 percent of the total, and it makes up 12 percent of Barcelona's economic output.
But Airbnb says all efforts made so far to meet with Barcelona city hall to discuss ways to move forward and work together in the interest of both residents, property owners and tourists have so far proved unsuccessful.