Barcelona’s “Visualitzadors” work towards zero tolerance on illegal tourist accommodation

Their work has seen the number of unlicensed online ads reduce by 70%

Barcelona City Council and holiday rental websites have pledged to work towards zero tolerance on illegal tourist flats and to explore all possible means of working together to be quicker at immediately removing them from the Internet. The work of the “Visualitzadors” (Spotters), who actively search for illegal tourist activity, has been key to reducing the amount of illegal accommodation advertised by 70%.

The municipal government has called for holiday rental websites to be held jointly accountable for compliance with the law and stop advertising illegal flats: "Barcelona has drawn the line, which is the law, and we will work with the websites towards joint and collective zero tolerance”, said deputy mayor, Janet Sanz. To do so, "the city wants to reach the point of having zero ads for illegal tourist accommodation, with the support of the website operators". This was the position of municipal officials Janet Sanz and Agustí Colom after attending a new meeting of the holiday rental websites action group, along with representatives of Booking.com, Airbnb, Apartur, Homeaway, Rentalia and TripAdvisor, as well as municipal technical staff connected with the areas concerned.

The Spotters’ mission is to search for illegal tourist activity in order to safeguard improvements to the coexistence of all Barcelona citizens by ensuring that activities linked to tourist accommodation are standardised, as well as guaranteeing the proper functioning of those activities and highlighting any improper use. The Spotters’ duties, as required by the City Council, include, among other things, actively searching for illegal tourist accommodation and spotting other activities or aspects of public and city life that do not comply with municipal byelaws.

A 70% reduction in the amount of illegal accommodation advertised thanks to City Council inspections
The emergency action plan to tackle Illegal Tourist Accommodation has seen the total number of unlicensed ads on Internet sites decrease from 5,875 in 2016 to 1,714 in June 2018. This figure represents a dramatic reduction of 70%. As such, the massive amount of tourist accommodation on offer, which grew exponentially with the appearance of holiday rental websites, has been curtailed, since the sanctions put in place have acted as a deterrent.

The numbers on each platform, as of the start of June, show Airbnb with a total of 1,082 illegal ads for apartments, Homeaway with 115, Niumba with 7, Only Apartments with 18, Rentalia with 22, TripAdvisor with 46 and Wimdu with 424.

Based on this snapshot of what illegal tourist accommodation is being offered in Barcelona, dating from the beginning of July, the City Council has already sent a request to Airbnb and Wimdu to remove the ads detected as being illegal, and continues its work to detect other ads that may have emerged in recent weeks.

Two years of the emergency action plan

Two years on from the launch of the emergency action plan against illegal tourist accommodation, started in July 2016 with tools to act more quickly, efficiently and effectively against the overwhelming number of properties on offer, 4,148 warrants have been issued, ordering the properties to be closed, and it has been confirmed that the owners of 2,129 properties – more than half – have obeyed voluntarily and have ceased to operate, while 226 have been ordered to be shut down, showing how effective the municipal action has been.

The holiday rental websites action group was created in May 2017 as a forum for stable dialogue between the City Council and the main websites advertising holiday rental accommodation in the city, to promote joint action to improve the sector and action to support Barcelona as a sustainable tourism destination.


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