More data on short-term rental needed, as EU legislation is no panacea –

More data on short-term rental needed, as EU legislation is no panacea –

The EU Commission’s recent proposal on short-term rentals (STRs), which hones in on transparency measures and streamlines registration processes, is a step in the right direction as comprehensive data is essential to better regulate the sector, Cláudia Monteiro de Aguiar MEP told EURACTIV.

Cláudia Monteiro de Aguiar is a centre-right Portuguese MEP and member of the Committee for Transports and Tourism. She was the rapporteur on an “EU strategy for sustainable tourism” in 2021.

Like it or not, short-term rental platforms like Airbnb and Booking are here to stay, Monteiro de Aguiar stressed, noting how peer-to-peer rental accommodations have become a significant ‘segment’ of the tourism industry.

For the lawmaker, these platforms have brought economic benefits to both cities and rural areas. “It helps disseminate economic gains across country regions” while creating more sustainable and responsible tourism, she explained.

However, something is missing from the picture – data. The MEP says access to data to back policy-making is badly needed in tourism, especially regarding short-term rentals, resulting in local authorities taking disproportionate measures.

At the same time, information is lacking on the social, economic and environmental impacts of Airbnb-like rental accommodations.

Everybody wants more data

The lack of data is becoming a pressing issue for managing such a booming sector. According to the Commission, 25% of all tourist accommodations in the EU come from Booking and the likes, with a 138% increase in the first half of 2022.

Yet there is no clear, EU-wide understanding of who owns listings, whether the same apartments are available on more than one online platform and the extent to which city services have access to this data in the first place.

“Legal certainty and transparency were at the heart of all stakeholders’ demands, be they hosts, property managers, big and small online platforms, the hospitality sector or regulators,” Monteiro de Aguiar told EURACTIV.

As all players involved recognise the value of evidence-based public policies, the Commission’s proposal on data collection and sharing relating to short-term accommodation rental services has been widely welcomed as a necessary tool to harmonise practices across the bloc.

The regulation will lay out a common approach to registration procedures, upon which a single and unique registration number would be granted to hosts and accommodations to ensure greater transparency and traceability.

Tech platforms will also be expected to automatically transmit data about their hosts onto a national single entry point every month. This new digital gateway will enable platforms to share information automatically, facilitating checks against avoiding illicit rentals.

No panacea

In Monteiro de Aguiar’s eyes, it is a good first step, though it is no panacea. She argues the complexity and variety of local rules are not fully addressed. Furthermore, she claims the full force of this regulation can only work if other, already-adopted files are implemented efficiently across the Union.

For the Portuguese lawmaker, this is particularly true for the Digital Services Act (DSA), of which the STR proposal functions almost as an add-on.

“Member states’ authorities need to follow the rules accordingly, and when they do not follow, the Commission shall pursue infringement proceedings without delay,” she said.

The MEP also thinks the current proposal could be improved to avoid creating a data-sharing burden on all players involved. As it stands, the text risks adding new layers of technical complexity, she says.

Professional or authentic

Another question the EU proposal is meant to clarify is the so-called ‘professionalisation’ of the short-term rental sector.

In a letter penned by the European Cities Alliance to Commissioners Thierry Breton and Margrethe Vestager in July 2022, mayors of municipalities like Amsterdam and Barcelona argued that the original peer-to-peer renting has become marginal because companies with an extensive portfolio own the majority of listings.

“The Commission estimates that 87% of the hosts are peers and 13% are professional hosts,” Monteiro de Aguiar said, adding that the fact some owners are turning this gig into a profession is no surprise to her – it is just the way the market operates.

Albeit a small minority, cities stress that these ‘hyper-hosts’ count for the majority of the existing listings. In other words, data on multi-listings at the EU level remains necessary to get a better picture of the sector as a whole.

Last year, Monteiro de Aguiar called for a common European data space for Tourism to “provide the EU and Member States with a factual overview with data, enabling them to devise informed strategies based”.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism, tasked to provide an opinion on the proposal is due to start negotiations soon. However, political diverges have already started to emerge across the aisle.

“Some political groups and MEPs are trying to diminish the importance of short-term rentals on the entire tourism ecosystem, which in my view is a profound mistake,” Monteiro de Aguiar concluded.

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Nathalie Weatherald]

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