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Why is Spain cracking down on Spaniards cooking meals for tourists?

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Why is Spain cracking down on Spaniards cooking meals for tourists?
Photos: Deposit Photos
12:56 CEST+02:00
In recent years ordinary Spaniards have been capitalising on their country’s much admired cuisine and culture to sell ‘Spanish eating experiences’ to tourists from their own homes. But things are about to get a lot stricter for this unregulated occupation.

What’s it all about?

With more and more tourists in Spain on the lookout for authentic local experiences, normal Spaniards have started exploiting their innate ‘Spanishness’ to make a quick buck, thanks in large part to the help of platforms such as Airbnb Experiences and Eat With.

The concept is simple. The ‘home chef’ posts an online ad in which they invite strangers (often foreigners) to come dine with them and experience what Spanish food culture is all about, at a price.

Once the guests have paid for their homemade meal, usually costing between €30 and €80 per person, they are given the address and join the host at their home.

Given Spain’s well-established outdoor eating habits, many of these ‘gastro hosts’ don’t actually get their hands dirty in the kitchen, but rather act as guides on food tours through their towns and cities, selling their inside knowledge on the best hidden gems to culture-hungry travellers.

Why does the Spanish government have a problem with this?

Tourism is big business in Spain, and in much the same way as the influx in short-term home rentals has shaken up the hotel industry status quo, this increasingly popular strand of the digital world’s so-called collaborative economy is starting to get noticed by the Spanish taxman.

Hosts get charged roughly 20 percent by the platforms for every homemade meal sold, but the remaining 80 percent goes straight into their bank accounts.

That’s because this new industry remains unregulated and unrecognised in Spain, with hosts under no legal obligation to register as self-employed even though monthly earnings can be upwards of €3,000 for popular hosts.

So is Spain’s tax agency just after its cut of the tortilla?

Well, yes, but that’s not the only reason for the planned crackdown.

As with other new and initially unregulated digital industries that have allowed normal people to make some extra money on the side, the lack of rules means things have the potential to go wrong or unchecked. 

The primary focus of the Spanish government is to ensure that health and safety standards are enforced for these homemade food services.

Spain’s Ministry of Health is currently drawing up a new decree that will regulate the practices, ensuring that similar hygiene and quality standards to those for restaurants and bars are met in each host household.

According to Spain’s Food Safety Agency, the current limbo would mean that if any home visitor or customer were to get food poisoning, “the responsibility would always fall on the shoulders of the company in charge”.

That means that currently any host or chef is completely exempt of any guilt if their guests suffer the consequences of their potential negligence. 

What next for this trend in Spain then?

It seems highly likely that once Spain’s ‘homemade meals for tourists’ trend is enshrined in labour laws, hosts will have to start declaring their earnings along with having to abide by official food standards.

Back in January Spain’s Hacienda tax agency sent letters to 120,000 property owners in Spain with their homes on Airbnb and other platforms, warning them they had to declare what they were making from the short term rentals.

The vast majority complied.

“We could have sent them letters telling them they had to paid for everything they hadn’t declared but what we prefer is to increase the amount of voluntary taxpayers before acting on that,” Agencia Tributaria head Jesús Gascón said at the time.

Something similar could well happen to Spain’s rogue food hosts in the coming months, especially given the increase in claims by Spain’s restaurant and hotel industry that they represent unfair competition for them.
 

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