The European Commission’s recent proposal on short-term rentals, which focuses on transparency measures and streamlines registration processes, is seen as a step in the right direction. Indeed, comprehensive data is essential to better regulate the sector, MEP Cláudia Monteiro de Aguiar told EURACTIV.
Ms Monteiro de Aguiar is a Portuguese centre-right MEP and member of the Transport and Tourism Committee. In particular, she was rapporteur for an “EU Strategy for Sustainable Tourism” in 2021.
Like it or not, short-term rental platforms (short term rentalsSTR) such as Airbnb and Booking are here to stay, Ms. Monteiro de Aguiar underlined, pointing out that peer-to-peer rentals have become a “segment” important for the tourism sector.
The MEP believes that these platforms have brought economic benefits to both cities and rural areas. “This allows the economic benefits to be distributed among the regions of the country” while creating more sustainable and responsible tourism, he said.
However, one element is missing from the picture: data. The MEP says access to data to support policy-making is severely lacking in the tourism sector. This is especially true for short-term rentals, which lead local authorities to take disproportionate measures.
At the same time, there is also a lack of information on the social, economic and environmental impacts of Airbnb-type rentals.
Lack of data, big problem
Lack of data is emerging as a major challenge in managing such a thriving industry. The Commission estimates that 25% of all accommodation establishments in the EU come from Booking and other similar sites. A 138% increase was also recorded in the first half of 2022.
However, there is no clear EU-wide knowledge of listing owners, whether the same flats are available on more than one online platform and to what extent municipal services have access to this data in the first place.
“Legal certainty and transparency were at the heart of requests from all stakeholders, be they hosts, property managers, online platforms large and small, the hospitality sector or regulators”Monteiro de Aguiar told EURACTIV.
Because all stakeholders recognize the value of evidence-based public policy, the proposal of the Commission on the collection and sharing of data related to short-term accommodation rental services has been widely welcomed as a necessary tool for the harmonization of practices across the bloc.
The regulation will define a common approach to registration procedures, whereby a unique registration number will be assigned to guests and accommodation establishments to ensure greater transparency and traceability.
Technology platforms will also be required to automatically transmit data about their hosts to a single nationwide entry point each month. This new digital gateway will allow platforms to share information automatically, thus facilitating controls to prevent illegal rentals.
Not a panacea
For Ms. Monteiro de Aguiar, this is a good first step, but not a panacea. According to her, the complexity and diversity of local regulations are not fully taken into account. You also state that this regulation will only be able to produce its full effects if other dossiers, already adopted, are effectively transposed throughout the Union.
The Portuguese MEP believes this is particularly true with regard to the regulation on digital services (Digital Services ActDSA), for which the short-term rental proposal works almost as a complement.
“Member State authorities have to follow the rules accordingly, and when they don’t, the Commission launches infringement proceedings without delay”she said.
Ms Monteiro de Aguiar also believes that the current proposal could be improved to avoid creating a data sharing burden for all actors involved. As it stands, the text risks adding new levels of technical complexity, she says.
For a professional or authentic model?
The EU proposal also aims to clarify another issue, namely the so-called “professionalisation” of the short-term rental sector.
In a letter written by the European Cities Alliance to Commissioners Thierry Breton and Margrethe Vestager in July 2022, mayors of municipalities such as Amsterdam and Barcelona argued that peer-to-peer upfront leasing is now marginal as companies with large portfolios own the majority of ads.
“Commission estimates 87% of hosts are peers and 13% are professional hosts” said Madame Monteiro de Aguiar. And she adds that the fact that some owners turn this business into a profession doesn’t surprise him, that’s simply how the market works.
While a small minority, cities point out that these “hyper-hosters” account for the majority of existing lists. In other words, data on multiple EU-wide lists is still needed to get a better picture of the sector as a whole.
Last year, Monteiro de Aguiar called for the creation of a common European tourism data space, in order to “to provide the EU and Member States with a factual overview with data, enabling them to design informed strategies”.
The European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism, which is responsible for delivering an opinion on the proposal, is expected to start negotiations soon. However, political differences have already begun to appear in the ranks of deputies.
“Some political groups and MEPs are trying to downplay the importance of short-term rentals for the entire tourism ecosystem, which I think is a big mistake”concluded Mrs. Monteiro de Aguiar.