Draft EU rules for short-term rental platforms don’t differ much from voluntary initiatives

How big of a problem is Airbnb for Europe’s cities? That’s what the EU wants to figure out.

Brussels this week unveiled its first set of measures aimed at regulating how short-term rental platforms like Airbnb operate in cities. 

Rather than lay down wide-ranging new rules, the European Commission’s first step is a narrow one: It wants platforms to share aggregate data on who uses the platform, where they stay and for how long.

If approved, the rules mean Airbnb and others will have to supply near real-time booking data to national governments — something the EU says can help city authorities tackle the nuisance and soaring housing prices some say is caused by short-term holiday rentals.

Airbnb saw it coming.

The company in 2020 launched a portal on its platform to collect tax revenues and share data with governments, co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk told POLITICO last week, before the Commission published its proposed rules. 

“We needed to actually engage with our stakeholders, in this case governments, just as seriously as we engage with our guests and hosts,” he said.

Tax

Collecting tourist tax was one of the first areas where Airbnb and cities leveraged some of the platform’s data for public purposes.

“We have all the data, right? We know who the hosts are, we know how many nights are being booked,” Blecharczyk explained. “We’re able to set aside the money, and then directly remit in a lump sum, typically every month, to the relevant government.” Airbnb boasts that it has collected $6 billion in tax revenues that way.

The tax collection is now baked into a bigger platform, called City Portal, which is already used by 300 local authorities worldwide. The online dashboard helps cities with problems like collecting tourist tax, gaining tourism insights, taming nuisance, and connecting law enforcers with Airbnb’s support teams.

It’s a tech approach to a regulatory problem: build a platform, and scale it.

“We do come at it with a product mindset,” Blecharczyk said, adding that it’s needed to address regulatory concerns worldwide. “For us, it’s the way we have to approach things because we’re in 100,000 different towns and cities”

Airbnb is also one of the four companies involved in a 2020 data-sharing agreement with the EU statistics agency Eurostat. In early October, Eurostat reported that in the first half of this year guests spent around 199 million nights in short-term rental accommodation booked via Airbnb, Expedia, Booking.com or TripAdvisor.

A win

The Commission now wants to take these voluntary initiatives further — but only by a few steps.

EU officials are clear that it’s still up to cities and regions to decide how tourism should be developed in their areas. Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton warned against putting an “excessive or arbitrary burden on hosts.”

The draft rules foresee a common registration procedure for hosts, setting a baseline for what already exists in 22 EU countries. The EU’s executive branch suggests a unique registration number for hosts. The burden for the companies is rather light: They will have to design their sites in such a way the number can be displayed and authorities can order them to remove the ones without a valid registration number.

The companies even lobbied heavily for such harmonized registration to replace the “fragmented and disproportionate local rules” hosts face.

Based on the registry, platforms will have to share data per EU country on the number of nights a unit was rented out and the number of guests per unit. It isn’t clear whether this goes beyond Airbnb’s own City Portal initiative and the Eurostat pact.

Data sharing isn’t the problem. Airbnb’s Blecharczyk was more concerned that all short-term rental companies would be treated equally. “[If we’re sharing our data, but other people are not], that puts us at a competitive disadvantage.”

Source: http://www.politico.eu

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