Has Amsterdam managed to control Airbnb?
The city of Amsterdam recently reported that measures taken to reduce the number of Airbnb properties have been successful, with a reduction of Airbnb listings from 16,648 in March 2021 to 2924 in October. The total number of properties offered by platforms including Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia, Tripadvisor and VRBO was reported to be 4,128 in October 2021.
This drastic decline is primarily linked to the compulsory registration scheme introduced by the city. Owners wanting to have a listing on Airbnb were given until the beginning of October to register, or face steep fines if they were caught renting their properties. In addition, Airbnb hosts have to register each guest. By the deadline around 5000 applications were made for a registration number.
This latest phase in the struggle by Amsterdam to control sharing economy accommodation follows a series of lighter measures, such as limiting the rental period for a single address to 30 days a year, with a limit of four guests at a time. However, this seemed to have relatively little effect, because apartment owners simply listed their properties on multiple platforms, and the platforms refused to share their data with the city. Even though the city has been collaborating with Airbnb to limit the negative effects of its operations, it has taken a long time for this to have much effect.
Some commentators are also sceptical about the extent to which the new registration system will really reduce the number of Airbnb guests, particularly in the centre of the city. In an opinion piece in the national newspaper De Volkskrant, leisure economist Arno Ruis pointed out that registration was not a miracle cure for the Airbnb disease. He placed two important caveats against the Municipality’s claims of a drastic reduction in Airbnb supply. First, that many of the listings were actually inactive, with only a small proportion of active listings accounting for a large proportion of all stays. Second, that the reduction in Airbnb supply has been going on since 2017, and accelerated during the Pandemic. It is therefore likely that the reduction in active Airbnb properties is much smaller than claimed by the city, and that not all of the decline is due to the registration system.
Tourists in Amsterdam Noord (Photo Greg Richards)
A quick and dirty check on the Amsterdam listings from the Inside Airbnb database shows that the reduction reported by the city seems to correspond with reality. From the listings for September 2021, only about 30% of those checked were still active. However, the fact that most of the active listings were located in the city centre gives an indication that Arno Ruis’ observations are also correct: the central properties catering for the bulk of Airbnb guests continue to operate, and the reduction in listings has been in areas of city with less Airbnb demand. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether the dramatic decline in Airbnb listings is matched by a dramatic fall in Airbnb guests compared with pre-Pandemic levels.
The experience in other cities also suggests that the Airbnb issue will not simply disappear. In spite of strict measures against unregistered properties, a recent report in La Vanguardia shows that Airbnb rentals continue, albeit clandestinely. The newspaper spoke to one resident (who not surprisingly refused to be named), who has been regularly letting a room in her apartment on Airbnb in spite of the new measures. She said she needed the money to make ends meet, and was not planning to quit any time soon. The report also detailed a protest outside Barcelona’s City Hall by other apartment owners letting rooms as a source of income. This economic driver is also one of the justifications pushed by Airbnb as proof that it helps the communities in which it operates. Of course, the earnings of people letting single rooms in their own apartments account for a small fraction of Airbnb turnover, as research has shown in many cities that large-scale operators running multiple properties account for the bulk of all earnings.
Tackling the unexpected consequences of the growth of the collaborative economy is likely to be a headache for cities around the world for some time to come.