“Our city is not for sale”. The politics of regulation of platform-mediated short-term holiday rentals in European cities
In the space of a few years, short-term (“holiday”) rentals have become a contentious issue in many cities around the world. Their proliferation was facilitated by the emergence of new forms of ‘platform capitalism’ shaped by for-profit online platforms which organise supply and demand and take a commission for intermediation – the most well-known being Airbnb. The issue of platform-mediated short-term rentals (PM-STR) has become widely discussed in the media and local political arenas. Actors as diverse as grassroots movements and professional hotel associations have begun to challenge the impacts of PM-STR on neighbourhoods, housing markets, residents, and incumbent economic actors. As a result, some city governments have recently passed new regulations attempting to control the proliferation of STR and the activities of platforms. In the European context, the responses of city governments have been very diverse. I will present the first results of a research project (carried out in collaboration with Dr Tatiana Moreira, Dr Francesca Artioli and Dr Thomas Aguilera) which seeks to explore and compare the politicization and collective mobilization process around PM-STR in Europe, the diversity of emerging forms of regulation in 12 large European cities, and the challenging enforcement and implementation of such regulatory attempts.
Newly developed policy responses, we argue, are not only the mere result of different structural political-economic conditions. By adopting on a sociological approach to public policy analysis, we looked comparatively at how the struggle between collective actors with various interests, modes of action and narratives - embedded into place-specific institutional arrangements – can help to explain the differences in the regulations passed in various cities. Three main findings emerge. First, the diversity of regulation of PM-STR among cities can be explained by the type of actors who politicized the issue in the first place and framed it within a specific policy sector (housing, tourism, economic development), the pre-existing policy instruments traditionally used in that sector, and the distribution of competences between the city and other tiers of government (region and/or central state). Second, both the policy framing and the enacted regulations (namely their very existence, legitimacy, degree of stringency and instruments) remain an unstable and contested matter, because they are subject to intense political mobilisation by six types of actors: professional STR operators, associations of hosts or ‘home-sharers’, the hotel industry, residents’ associations or citizens’ movements, ‘sharing economy’ advocates, and corporate platforms. These actors (pre-existing or new) have clashing interests and construct different narratives regarding the urban land use and the economic activity represented by PM-STR. In so doing, they discursively claim different types of ‘rights’ in this contentious politics of regulation. In this process, Airbnb and other major platforms act as ‘regulatory entrepreneurs’ (Pollman and Barry, 2017), and, we argue, have become a new significant urban governance actor. Finally, I will show how the intense local conflicts around the politics of regulation are undergoing both a process of judicialization and of rescaling towards the European Union level.
• Aguilera, T., Artioli, F. & Colomb, C. (2019) Explaining the diversity of policy responses to platform-mediated short-term rentals in European cities: a comparison of Barcelona, Paris and Milan, Environment and Planning A, DOI:10.1177/0308518X19862286.
• Aguilera, T., Artioli F., and Colomb, C. (2019) Les villes contre Airbnb? Locations meublées de courte durée, plateformes numériques et gouvernance urbaine : enjeux de régulation dans les villes européennes. In : Courmont, A. and Le Galès, P. (eds) Gouverner la Ville Numérique. Paris: PUF - Vie des Idées.
• Colomb, C. and Moreira, Regulating platform-mediated short-term rentals in large European cities: debates, policy approaches and implementation challenges. Report for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Research Trust (forthcoming, 2020, https://www.rics.org/uk/news-insight/research/research-trust/)
• Novy, J. & Colomb, C. (2019) Urban tourism as a source of contention and social mobilisations: a critical review, Tourism Planning & Development, 16(4): 358-375.