Airbnb: the popularity and the problems in Prague

The traditional elements of tourism are being transformed. Many visitors to Prague are now eager to bypass hotels or hostels in favour of a more authentic and immersive experience during their stay, using flats found online by providers such as the increasingly popular Airbnb. In the past few years, the city has witnessed an enormous surge in the number of people offering rooms or apartments for rent. Airbnb and other related platforms have expanded their offer twentyfold. Estimations suggest Prague is now offering around 14,000 flats and rooms for short stays. However, a number of issues have arisen in recent years that have prompted resistance from city officials and local inhabitants to the popular service’s momentum. So why exactly is the poster child of the ‘sharing economy’ struggling to be assimilated into the Czech capital?

Prague is currently not among the European cities that already regulate short-term flat rentals. Amsterdam, for example, imposes an annual limit of 60 days for such practices. In Berlin and Barcelona, landlords can let individual rooms as long as they use at least half of the apartment themselves. The official spokesperson for Prague City Tourism, Barbora Hrubá, revealed to Travel? Czech! that discussions are currently taking place within the tourist sector and Prague City Hall regarding which direction new policy on the matter should take. She conceded that there were many advantages to a shared economy and would consequently not like to see it banned completely, as well as recognising that the idea itself could be incorporated into a wider strategy to direct tourists away from the inarguably overcrowded historic centre.

Nevertheless, it is growing more and more clear that the benefits need to be reconciled with the purported disturbances its function is causing to local residents and organisations. The idea of attracting visitors to wider or more suburban parts of Prague is also repudiated by the fact 80% of Airbnb properties are concentrated in the worst affected areas for over tourism. Prague councillors claim that rents are being driven up and locals are finding themselves excluded from the centre of the city. Hrubá also touched upon the conflicts that living in close proximity to a tourist flat can incite, revealing that from her “personal experience living near one the constant parties can be very disturbing for locals.” The deputy mayor of Prague 1, Daniel Hodek, likened the problem to the one posed by Segways which were causing various accidents downtown until laws were brought in to relieve the situation. He maintains that an entirely new legal framework ought to be implemented in order to deal with the problems that originate from short-term rentals.

Under the existing legislation, the providers of the accommodation are obligated to pay tourist and spa fees or taxes on their earnings, but according to city councillors as few as 5 per cent actually comply with these rules. Abuses within the rental market have been projected to already cost the city as much as 120 million crowns per year. This is of course unfair to hotels and other institutions that pay the required amount of taxation in order to fund necessary repairs to local infrastructure. Councillor Jan Wolf is overseeing a group actively working to tackle the problem:

We simply want to raise awareness of the current legislation. There will be a large banner on our website highlighting the rights and obligations of both accommodation providers and their clients. They will also find all kinds of information there, such as where to send the fees or where to register their visitors.”

In Airbnb’s high profile legal battles in the US, the company’s representatives argued that in other cities the number of tourists surpasses the number of hotel rooms, thereby the service effectively helps to augment tourism. For Prague this is not exactly the case, according to its detractors, and the service is simply a business which operates independently outside of the present legal framework.

Now after having operated in the Czech capital for 5 controversial years, it is yet to be seen whether Airbnb will be subject to the kind of stricter measures seen in other cities across the continent. The only thing that is certain at this point is that opposition is organised and mounting.

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