European tourist magnets hit back as Airbnb turns 10

Airbnb is worth an estimated $31 billion and has a stock of five million accommodation units advertising with it globally in 81,000 cities across some 200 countries. (AFP)
Updated 04 July 2018
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European tourist magnets hit back as Airbnb turns 10

  • Ten years on, Airbnb is worth an estimated $31 billion and has a stock of five million accommodation units advertising with it globally in 81,000 cities across some 200 countries
  • Despite the turbulence it has thrown up, professionals recognize that Airbnb has contributed to the sector’s positive overall development

PARIS: Facing competition from Airbnb, which will celebrate a decade this summer, top European attractions such as Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona are out to revamp their own offerings.
The move is to keep rental prices in check yet keep supply healthy as Airbnb continues to be a thorn in the side of hoteliers, ten years on from its August 11, 2008 debut as Airbed & Breakfast.
After several false starts, the web-based phenomenon emerged in the public glare of that year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver to offer a competitive alternative to a “saturated” hotel market and, as one of its co-founders said, “a way to make a few bucks.”
Ten years on, Airbnb is worth an estimated $31 billion and has a stock of five million accommodation units advertising with it globally in 81,000 cities across some 200 countries.
Those statistics make it a standout success story of the sharing economy as it responds to “rising touristic and professional demand for independent and more spacious centrally-located accommodation in large cities,” reported France’s urbanism association Apur last month.
The hotel industry is less sold on the success of what has become a big rival eating into its business without being subject to the same legal and fiscal constraints.
Municipal authorities have also expressed “numerous misgivings,” notes Apur, finding Airbnb-style rentals have driven up prices to the extent many major European cities as well as New York and Tokyo have embarked upon a regulatory offensive.
Paris, Airbnb’s number one market globally with some 60,000 rentals, has already faced legal challenges along with rival Wimdu. Authorities have also clamped down harder on owners not respecting legal requirements with some already hit with fines after the French parliament voted though a package of action last month.
Paris, having already last year capped the maximum number of days permitted for a short-term let to 120 annually, also said in April it would sue Airbnb and Wimdu for failing to remove ads from people not properly declaring their properties.
Spanish cities have tried hard to put the squeeze on private landlords by, for example, limiting offerings to ground floor apartments which also afford provision of a private entrance.
Palma de Mallorca is seeking an outright ban after seeing such rentals soar 40 percent between 2013 and 2017.
In Madrid, where some 9,000 apartments are up for rent — around 2,000 of them unlicensed — the radical leftist city authorities are seeking by the end of this year to introduce a 95 percent tax rate for legal rentals.
On the Mediterranean coast Barcelona has also taken up the cudgels amid protests from residents of districts drowned in a sea of tourists ready to party noisily at all hours.
The city authorities now say no new licenses will be granted to single apartments based in the historic city center.
Amsterdam back in December 2016 signed an accord it hailed as “unique in Europe” with Airbnb banning rentals beyond 60 days a year.
Berlin, which has seen real estate prices soar in recent years, had months earlier passed one of the continent’s strictest regimes to hobble further Airbnb expansion entailing the rental of a maximum one room in one’s dwelling with 100,000 euros ($110,000 fines) as a deterrent.
Even so, since May, that has been relaxed to allow renting out one’s entire private apartment.
On June 15, representatives from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon, Madrid and Paris — with Berlin absent but associated — met to “take stock of the extent of the phenomenon and compare public policy,” said Ian Brossat, tasked with rental affairs at Paris city hall.
Furthermore, a dozen European municipalities are to meet on Thursday in Brussels before holding autumn follow-up talks with EU internal market commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska.
“We are up against doublespeak from the platform (Airbnb) which, on the one hand, says it is going to play it by the rules and yet, on the other, indulges in intense lobbying in Brussels,” Brossat said.
Various rental tourism operators have filed complaints with the European Commission to contest national legislation of France, Spain, Belgium and Germany but for the time being it does not foresee the opening of violation procedures against one of these countries.
Despite the turbulence it has thrown up, professionals recognize that Airbnb has contributed to the sector’s positive overall development.
“I’m very much an admirer. They have done remarkable work in facilitating reservation, trip preparation, and the placing in contact with and very rapid exchange of information with the host,” Fabrice Collet, director general of France’s B&B group, said.
He adds their pricing strategy “has enabled families to travel who previously were not able to do so.”


Five historic mosques to be restored in Asir province

The historic mosques will be restored and renovated so that they can receive worshipers again. (SPA)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Five historic mosques to be restored in Asir province

  • Abdullah bin Ali Al-Asmari, a 100-year-old resident, said that he had served and supervised the mosque’s services 40 years ago and ascertained that according to some books, the mosque was built 400 years ago

JEDDAH: Five mosques in Asir have been added to the first phase of a SR50 million ($13 million) project to restore historic places of worship in the Kingdom.
The mosques have been added to the “Mohammed bin Salman project for Developing Historical Mosques” project, which includes 30 historic mosques in 10 of the Kingdom’s regions.
The historic Asir mosques will be restored and renovated so that they can receive worshippers again.
They have been abandoned in recent years as worshippers became used to visiting modern mosques in the light of urban development in the Kingdom. Some older mosques have been neglected and destroyed despite their historical value.
The historic Al-Mudfat in Abha is one of the mosques included on the list of buildings to be restored. Abdullah bin Ali Al-Asmari, a 100-year-old resident, said that he had served and supervised the mosque’s services 40 years ago and ascertained that according to some books, the mosque was built 400 years ago.
Al-Asmari said that the mosque consisted of a musalla that was six meters wide and 20 meters long, standing on five pillars of juniper trees; 92 branches of juniper trees were used to cover the ceilings.
The musalla has an entrance on the southern side, and an outdoor guest room with an old minaret where the muezzin stands. The lake was removed during previous restoration works and replaced by a modern water tank, he said.
Saudi resident Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Asmari said that the mosque is characterized by the ablution spaces, like the rest of the area’s historic mosques.
The second mosque to be renovated is the archaeological Sadreid Mosque in the north of Al-Namas governorate. The mosque’s features are very similar to those of the rest of the mosques in the area, but it is characterized by historic inscriptions. Saudi resident Mansoor bin Saad Al-Aajlan said that these inscriptions show that it is one of the oldest mosques in the Arabian Peninsula, built in 728, according to credible historical sources.
The Al-Sarou is the third mosque that will be renovated in Asir. Residents said that the history of the mosque remains unknown but that it is very old.
The Aaqisa Mosque in the old village of Asir is also on the list. This mosque is situated near an old fortress and houses and is considered to be very old, according to information from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).
The mosque occupies an area of 72 square meters with an outdoor space and a lake for ablution.
Al-Nusb Historic Mosque, the fifth on the list, is situated in the center of Abha city.
A local resident, Bandar bin Abdullah Al-Moufarreh, said that the mosque was built in 1744 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Moufarreh and later restored in 1841 by his grandson Sheikh Mohammed bin Ahmed Al-Moufarreh, and again in 1897 by Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Moufarreh.