MADRID, July 7 The region of Catalonia, whose
beaches on the northeastern coast of Spain draw millions of
tourists every year, has fined home rental website Airbnb for
marketing short-term room lets, a first in Europe amid a
mounting crackdown on the practice.
Airbnb, a San Francisco start-up valued at $10 billion, was
fined 30,000 euros ($40,900) for allowing homeowners to rent out
rooms to travellers for under 30 days, which is illegal in the
region, a spokesman for the Catalan government said.
Eight companies have so far been fined for similar
practices, the spokesman said, adding in total about 55 could
end up being penalised after a review of around 2,000 online
platforms offering hospitality services.
Airbnb said in a statement it was reviewing the decision and
considering its legal options. The fine is its first in Europe.
The firm, which lets homeowners share their homes for a fee
by marketing them online, has become a popular alternative to
hotels and mirrors consumers' growing reliance on online sharing
services in other areas such as transport, including cars.
Users of the hospitality website have booked 10 million
rooms in close to 200 countries since 2007. Earlier this year a
group led by private equity firm TPG Capital Management agreed
to invest $450 million in Airbnb, valuing it at $10 billion.
But Airbnb's facilitation of short-term lets has also
brought it growing legal headaches in countries where such
practices are banned or strictly regulated. The company agreed
in May to turn over its user records to New York state officials
investigating illegal short-term renting.
In Catalonia, home to the seaside city of Barcelona, the
regional government tightened rules on hospitality in 2012,
though it does allow homeowners to rent out entire houses or
flats if they register with a local tourism authority. It says
this is to better control the quality of services on offer.
"We need to protect this destination," the spokesman for the
Catalan government said, adding it would keep fining Airbnb or
seek to have its site blocked in the region if it did not drop
marketing these types of rentals.
"Barcelona should stay on the cutting edge of innovation,
and we're disappointed to see a ruling ... that will hold the
city back," Airbnb said in its statement. "We will continue to
provide robust information about the rules in Barcelona, and
require all Airbnb hosts to follow those rules."
($1 = 0.7331 Euros)
(Reporting by Sarah White, editing by David Evans)