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Airbnb's Troubles in Spain Grow Alongside Greater Use

Home-sharing service’s Barcelona backlash continues

February 28, 2017 | Retail & Ecommerce

2016 was a banner year for Airbnb in Spain, with domestic and international usage up considerably compared with 2015. But the home-sharing service’s future in Spain looks less rosy as local governments up their efforts to control the company’s impact on local housing markets.

Sharing Economy User Penetration in Spain, Q2 2016 (% of internet users* and % of population)

The total number of guests using Airbnb to visit Spain grew 82% in 2016 to more than 5.4 million, the company announced earlier this month—a figure greater than the combined sum of all previous guests in the years since Airbnb launched in Spain.

The service has become more popular with locals, too, with 2.8 million residents of Spain using Airbnb in 2016, double the 1.4 million who had done so a year earlier.

The country’s top destination, Barcelona, received 1.24 million visitors via Airbnb last year, a 40% increase. Madrid saw an even bigger boost, with a 70% jump to 642,000, the company said. According to a report by Bloomberg, Barcelona is Airbnb’s fourth largest market in Europe, behind Paris, London and Rome.

But as it has in cities like London and Amsterdam, Airbnb’s popularity has reached a point of contention in Barcelona. The latest flare-up came earlier this month when the city rejected an offer by Airbnb to limit the number of rentals available via nonprofessional landlords in Barcelona’s central Ciutat Vella district and a promise that professional landlords would provide business information on the site in order to facilitate the collection of tourist tax, according to English-language newspaper The Olive Press.

Barcelona’s concern is about more than just tax revenues, however. Janet Sanz, the city’s deputy mayor for urban planning, told travel industry intelligence platform Skift in February: “We don’t want Barcelona turning into a theme park where neighbors are priced out of their homes and local businesses come under pressure. We want to make tourism compatible with the way of life of the people of Barcelona.”

The success of efforts in Spain to curb private rentals through services like Airbnb remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the sharing economy has found a receptive audience in the country. As of Q2 2016, more than a quarter of Spain’s population, and over a third of its weekly-or-better internet users ages 10 and older, used sharing economy services at least once per year, according to a survey conducted by Kantar TNS for Comisión Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia (CNMC).

—Cliff Annicelli

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