“Dear tourist,” the graffiti in Coimbra read, “one Airbnb tourist kicks two to three students out of our city – enjoy.” I came across this message on my first night in Portugal, and as a full-time traveller who uses Airbnb almost exclusively in expensive parts of the world, it made for uncomfortable reading. This Airbnb ban issue has been playing on my mind ever since and I can’t help asking myself, has Airbnb become an irresponsible way to travel?
Why we use Airbnb
When we started travelling full-time in 2013, Airbnb was a relatively new platform. Hosts were mainly using it to rent out their spare room, make a bit of cash and meet some new people. Take the British couple we stayed with in New Zealand who made us dinner, for example, and Wendy in New Hampshire who lent us a kayak, or the World Travel Family, who hosted us in Port Douglas and have become friends we’ve since met up with in various corners of the world.
Yes, we’ve had problems with Airbnb too – bedbugs, last-minute cancellations and less-than-friendly hosts – but at its best, the site offers a homelier experience. You get to stay with a local who can offer advice about the area and you get perks such as access to a kitchen, washing machine and even cute pets. Then there’s the price. Travelling as a couple, we find that in expensive parts of the world such as Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, you get far more for your money using Airbnb than booking hotels or even hostels.
As our travel style has changed over the years and we’ve begun working remotely, Airbnb has also allowed us to rent whole apartments on a short-term basis. This means we can balance work and exploring, cook healthy meals and enjoy home comforts we miss when we stay in guesthouses and hotels. We’ve just spent a month in a great apartment outside of Porto, for instance, and in the past few years we’ve also rented flats in Spain, Thailand and Croatia. Tomorrow, we move to another apartment in Prague for four weeks.
So, why the Airbnb ban?
In recent years, there’s been a huge commercial shift towards hosts renting out investment properties on Airbnb as short-term lets, with the sole purpose of making a profit. This is disrupting already strained housing markets in cities like Amsterdam, which has a crippling shortage of affordable housing. Airbnb may not be the root cause of these housing problems, but it’s definitely exacerbating the problem, hence the graffiti in Coimbra.
While ‘sharing economy’ services like Airbnb and Uber, which has recently been banned in London, might have started as a way for regular people to share their home or car in exchange for a bit of extra cash, they’ve now reached the point where people are using them to run full-scale businesses. It’s no wonder hotels and black cab drivers are getting pissed off when they’re being undercut by people who don’t have to pay the same licence fees or abide by the same legislation that they do.
This Airbnb ban issue is also tangled up with debates about the detrimental effects of mass tourism. Take the wave of anti-tourism protests that took place in Europe this summer, starting in Spain, a country that saw a record 75.6 million tourists visit last year (17.8 million of those visitors were from the UK). In Spain, there were even reports of people setting off flares outside of tourist restaurants and slashing the tires of tour buses.
Protests and marches also took place in Dubrovnik, Rome and Venice and anti-tourism graffiti has been popping up in countless other European destinations. A few weeks ago in Lisbon we saw anti-cruise ship graffiti and messages stating: ‘Mass tourism = human pollution.’ There’s even a ‘We hate tourism tour’ in Lisbon, which aims to strike back at the destructive kinds of tourism and instead encourage visitors to travel responsibly.
Where is Airbnb legal?
These problems are so bad that many cities around the world have now introduced restrictions or an Airbnb ban. As one of our readers Nikki recently commented:
“We had a booking cancel in Amsterdam after an Airbnb crackdown. Then we couldn’t get a place in Berlin due to the city ban. We have a stay in Vancouver, Canada coming up that we were allowed to get only because we were staying more than 30 days (no Airbnbs less than 30 days allowed). And we are cancelling a two-month stop in Victoria, Canada because Airbnb legislation is pending and the owners are all scared to take reservations right now.”
So exactly where is Airbnb illegal? Here’s a look at some of the cities banning Airbnb or restricting it:
Barcelona – in Barcelona, it’s illegal to rent out an apartment on Airbnb without a licence. Raids are common and there’s even a phone line you can call to tip authorities off about illegal rentals, the maximum fine is €60,000.
Amsterdam – property owners can rent out their home for a maximum of 60 days a year and to no more than four people at a time. Hosts are now legally required to report their listing to local authorities and fines for breaching the rules can run to over €20,000.
Airbnb legal issues UK – in London, hosts cannot rent entire homes out for more than 90 calendar nights a year. Since the beginning of 2017, Airbnb have introduced a technical feature that automatically limits listings to 90 days.
New York Airbnb law – has banned short-term rentals and hosts can’t rent out an entire apartment for less than 30 days. The ban is for all home-sharing sites and even advertising a short-term rental is illegal and can earn a fine of up to $7,500.
Paris – you’re not allowed to rent an apartment out for more than 120 days a year, same goes for many other French cities. The hosts have to register with local authorities and Airbnb collects local tourist taxes from guests.
Berlin Airbnb law – hosts can rent out up to 50 percent of a property they live in, but entire homes can only be rented under special circumstances and you need a licence that’s very difficult to get. Fines run up to €100,000, making it one of the toughest Airbnb crackdowns.
San Francisco – hosts can only rent out an entire property for 90 days a year but they must have a business licence, insurance, meet building standards and pay taxes on reservations of less than 30 nights.
Reykjavik – since the beginning of 2017, hosts can only rent out apartments for up to 90 days a year and make a maximum of one million Icelandic Kronor per year. Hosts also need to register a property, meet health and safety regulations and get a hospitality licence.
Still wondering where is Airbnb legal? You can find out more specific details from Airbnb itself.
Should I stop using Airbnb?
So, are we being responsible travellers by using Airbnb so much? It’s a difficult dilemma, as Nikki commented:
“I understand the backlash against Airbnb and tourism in general, but I wouldn’t want to travel if I had to stay in hotels. I want to do the right thing too. It’s a very difficult dilemma.”
Like Nikki, I love the flexibility of being able to rent apartments for a month at a time and I’m not sure I’d be able to do that if it weren’t for Airbnb. Whilst we still stay in hotels, guesthouses and hostels sometimes, we prefer the perks of staying in a home and I’m sure our accommodation costs would spiral in places like Europe if we didn’t have the option of using Airbnb. However, I want to travel responsibly.
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As for the wider anti-tourism issue, as a full-time traveller, it hurts. I understand that in summer some European cities are so swamped with tourists that they become un-liveable for local residents. It must be horrendous for locals in Dubrovnik, for instance, when up to five cruise ships descend on their tiny city every day. Similarly, I’ll never go to an Italian city during the summer again after visiting Florence last July where I queued for hours in theme-park like lines to visit its museums and cathedrals.
Saying that, I also used to live in London and work near London Bridge, so I know what it’s like to live in a touristy place, to commute on packed tube trains, to pay high rental prices and fight my way through crowded streets. Yes, tourism has its downsides, but I actually liked the fact that London was so full of people from all parts of the world, that you could walk along the street and hear so many different languages. I felt proud that so many people wanted to visit the city I called home.
Tourism, at the end of the day, doesn’t regulate itself. It’s up to individual governments to, for instance, regulate how much tourist accommodation they allow in their cities. All we can do as travellers, bar staying at home, is try to travel as responsibly as possible. Will I stop using Airbnb? Probably not, but I do hope the Airbnb restrictions relieve some of these housing and mass tourism problems.
What do you think? Do you use Airbnb, are you on board with the bans?