5 March 2020 saw the European Commission (EC) announce an unprecedented agreement with short-stay accommodation titans Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor to share and publish data (on the number of nights booked and the number of guests staying) with the EC via Eurostat (the EU's statistical office) (press release here). Eurostat will then aggregate the data by municipality and publish that data on a Member State and individual region level.
This collaborative venture represents an initial step by the EC in tackling the absence of regular and reliable data in this area, and recognises the need to balance: (a) the opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs using these growing platforms; and (b) adverse societal effect on local communities of landlords using their properties for short term lets, e.g. increasing property prices.
While this agreement has been universally welcomed, it is noted that there are other categories of information that could also be useful from a policy-making perspective, such as the number of listings, hosts, beds and types of accommodation.
A number of cities including Paris, Barcelona, Berlin and Amsterdam have previously sought to place restrictions on the use of short-stay accommodation platforms, but this has not always been successful. For example, on 19 December 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union (the EU's most senior court) ruled that Airbnb did not have to meet particular regulatory requirements as it was correctly classified as an intermediation service rather than an estate agent (a stark contrast to their ruling on Uber with respect to the transportation services space). This new data sharing agreement does not tackle the limited regulatory restrictions that can be placed on online platforms. However, the EC hopes that this data collaboration will allow for more informed and balance policymaking.
With a 2019 survey showing that 21% of EU citizens use a website or app to arrange accommodation, there have been numerous calls for a digital regulator to better police this space. It is thought that the much anticipated Digital Services Act will make some progress on this front, but the slow development of this legislation may struggle to match the evolving issues face by online platforms. That said, this remains an interesting example of big tech companies collaborating with supranational bodies on regulation, as well as regulators seeking to become better informed on the nature and effect of new technology platforms to ensure informed decision making in this space.
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