Thursday

27th Jul 2017

Interview

Airbnb's change of heart toward Strasbourg

  • Reflection of hotels on the front of the Strasbourg train station. During EU parliament plenary sessions, all of the rooms are booked (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Alain Fontanel has done it himself - used the Airbnb platform to find accommodation. When travelling in his native country of France, or abroad, with his three children, an Airbnb apartment can be more attractive than staying at a hotel, he told EUobserver in an interview.

The vice-mayor of Strasbourg, in charge of tourism, has also rented out his own house to strangers, making use of Airbnb.

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  • Alain Fontanel is the vice-mayor of Strasbourg, in charge of tourism (Photo: Peter Teffer)

He did not see any problem in citizens occasionally renting out their apartments through apps such as these. The real trouble is caused by owners of multiple buildings, that use Airbnb to rent out rooms throughout the year, but without any of the permits that would be required of hotels.

“There is a big difference between one owner with one apartment renting one or two months per year, and someone who has four, five apartments, renting each of them all year long,” Fontanel said, adding that “it's not the same problem.”

The “multi-owner”, as Fontanel called them, is exercising unfair competition towards Strasbourg's hotels, while driving up housing and rental prices.

“Especially in Strasbourg, when you take the central part of the city, you have more and more Airbnb houses, and so fewer and fewer houses for people living here,” the socialist politician said.

He then went on to argue that “because you have fewer families”, the number of school children are dropping in the centre. “Airbnb helps to attract different types of tourism into our city, so [that is] good news,” he said, noting however that “it also has side-effects that can be negative.”

Airbnb cooperates, to an extent

Last year, Strasbourg changed the rules to counter those side-effects.

It is no longer allowed to rent out more than three apartments for more than 120 days a year. The city has also started cooperation with Airbnb, in an effort to apply an existing rule: if you want to rent out your building for more than 120 days a year, you need permission from the city.

“Airbnb can check how many nights [are booked] per apartment. When they see that one apartment is [booked] more than 120 nights, they will ask them [the host] to get the permission from the city,” said Fontanel.

If the host cannot provide the correct documentation, Airbnb would no longer allow the user to rent through Airbnb, the company has promised the city of Strasbourg.

What the firm could also do is notify the city when a host rented out their apartment longer than the allowed limit, but “Airbnb doesn't want to do this,” said Fontanel. “Because if they do this, they will lose the confidence of their clients. They protect their clients.”

The vice-mayor actually agrees with Airbnb's policy to place the anonymity of its clients above informing the city of their mishandling of the rules. “It would be a problem if Airbnb was not protecting their clients.”

Tourism tax

Airbnb has also started to collect tourism tax in Strasbourg, just as it has done in other European cities. The €0.55 tax for each person per night is automatically added to the price of the accommodation.

From August 2016, when the scheme started, until December 2016, Strasbourg had received around €80,000 in tourism tax from Airbnb.

But in all of 2016, hotels in Strasbourg paid €4.5 million in tourism tax. “So, in perspective it's not a lot. We expected a little more,” said Fontanel. He also noted that Airbnb is not the only temporary rental platform, and that the city is also reaching out for cooperation with its competitors.

But still, Airbnb has changed its attitude, Fontanel said, because the company saw that its image was being damaged by the side-effects of the “multi-owners”.

“The philosophy of Airbnb was more based on the sharing philosophy, and use your own means to share with others, and obtain a revenue from it. It's not the philosophy of doing business like a hotel without the license of a hotel.”

This article is part of EUobserver's annual Business in Europe magazine, which can be read in full here. This year, the magazine looks into how Europe manages the sharing economy. If you would like to receive the e-version of the magazine, please register for the newsletter.

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