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Airbnb calls for digital regulator

Airbnb has called for the creation of a digital watchdog as part of the EU’s proposed Digital Services Act.

The comments came after December’s ruling from the Court of Justice of the EU; that Airbnb did not need an estate agent’s licence to operate in France.

The platform planned to write to European cities, backing calls for a regulator. Chris Lehane, Airbnb SVP, global policy & communications, said: “While our thinking on this topic is still in its early stages . . . we are clear that we support calls for a single European oversight body for digital services. We strongly believe that housing policy and regulations of short-term rentals within that does need to take place at the local level.”

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Lehane added that Airbnb was planning to announce a partnership to provide cities with independently-published data on the impact of short-term rentals within Europe, and wanted to work on improved ways to collect tourist taxes from guests.

The ECJ ruling came after the French tourism association complained that Airbnb did not comply with French property laws, with the ECJ ruling that the peer-to-peer lodging brand was, instead, a platform.

The ECJ described Airbnb instead as an “information society service” which was “a tool to facilitate the conclusion of contracts”. The ruling said:  “In that regard, because of its importance, the compiling of offers using a harmonised format, coupled with tools for searching for, locating and comparing those offers, constitutes a service which cannot be regarded as merely ancillary to an overall service coming under a different legal classification, namely provision of an accommodation service.”

The Association pour un hébergement et un tourisme professionnels, which lodged the complaint against Airbnb Ireland, maintained that that company did not merely connect two parties through its platform of the same name; it also acted as an estate agent without holding a professional licence, in breach of the act known as the ‘Hoguet Law’ which applies to the activities of real estate professionals in France.

The ECJ ruled that France could not require Airbnb to hold an estate agent’s professional licence as it did not notify the Commission of that requirement in accordance with the Directive on electronic commerce.

Airbnb said: “We welcome this judgment and want to move forward and continue working with cities on clear rules that put local families and communities at the heart of sustainable 21st century travel. We want to be good partners to everyone and already we have worked with more than 500 governments and authorities to help hosts share their homes, follow the rules and pay tax.”

Following the ruling, Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer, wrote to mayors in major cities across Europe.

He said: “We welcome this ruling and see it as a positive step for our continued collaboration with cities. Indeed this case was always about how our platform should be regulated – not whether it should be regulated. Cities can, should and do have their own clear and modern rules for home sharing, and we have worked with governments across the globe on measures to help hosts share their homes, follow the rules and pay their fair share of tax.

“I and my co-founders remain 100% committed to partnering with you to continue that important work. We want to ensure that our platform works for everyone and continue our close collaboration on innovative solutions to the challenges facing cities, while working together to generate new revenue streams for local families, businesses and communities.”

Airbnb was facing a deadline this week to send rental data to the French tax authorities as part of a law that requires marketplaces to share user revenue and other information to the state.

Insight: Regulate me REGULATE ME. Airbnb, eager to prove it is fully legitimate ahead of its IPO, has been banging the regulation drum and sending letters to all manner of cities and mayors demanding that it be regulated. At the same time, the hotel sector has also been demanding that Airbnb be regulated, preferably out of existence.

Sounds like a match made in legal-fee heaven, right? Not so much. Airbnb, like a boundary-seeking teenager, just wants to feel safe. Specifically, safe from having its inventory – over which it has no control – snatched away from it as a result of piecemeal attempts to regulate it. Wouldn’t it be much simpler if the EU just acted like the big old trading bloc that it is?

Not a bad plan. But back in hotels world, regulation looks a lot different to that which Airbnb would favour, which is very much light touch with a side of taxes. Hotels would like to see full adherence to the arduous health and safety laws it must obey. Not to mention zoning; something a number of cities might also be supportive of.

Airbnb would like to get this matter done and over with before its IPO. Sadly for the sharing platform, the EU is a slow-moving beast. The regulation roadshow continues.

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