EU debates hitting Airbnb with tougher regulation

Officials are considering rules that would class the online accommodation platform as a ‘gatekeeper’

 The hotel industry has stepped up its lobbying campaign for more regulation of online booking platforms, such as Airbnb and Booking. Photograph: John Mac Dougall/AFP/Getty Images

The hotel industry has stepped up its lobbying campaign for more regulation of online booking platforms, such as Airbnb and Booking. Photograph: John Mac Dougall/AFP/Getty Images

 

The EU is debating guidelines that would classify the accommodation booking company Airbnb as a “gatekeeper” platform, paving the way for much stricter regulation under its new Digital Markets Act.

As they prepare to introduce the first big overhaul of regulations for internet companies in two decades, officials in Brussels are discussing the criteria to judge which online platforms are “gatekeepers”, such as their revenues and user numbers.

Officials are still unsure, however, whether to adopt a narrow set of criteria to capture just the biggest platforms, such as Google and Amazon, or whether to apply the definition to as many as 20 companies.

Two people with direct knowledge of the discussions said Airbnb’s inclusion on the list was a “real possibility” because of its large share of the short-term rentals market. Booking.com, Airbnb’s rival, may also be classed as a “gatekeeper”.

More than half of homes that offer short-term stays are listed on Airbnb, compared with 37 per cent on Booking.com and 22 per cent on Expedia, according to figures from the analytics company Transparent, which analyses global holiday rental listings.

Share data

Companies classed as gatekeepers by the EU may face regulations to force them to share their customer data with smaller rivals and to ban them from giving preferential treatment on their platforms to their own products and services.

The hotel industry, already in disarray because of the disruption to global travel from the coronavirus pandemic, has stepped up its lobbying campaign for more regulation of online booking platforms, such as Airbnb and Booking.

“We want a level playing field in an environment where things are extremely difficult,” said one senior hotel industry executive.

Jacques Lovell, public affairs manager at Hotrec, the trade body for hotels in Europe, which has been at the forefront of the lobbying efforts, said that Airbnb’s dominant position in the short-term rental market meant that he assumed it would fall under the EU’s new “gatekeeper” rules: “When we say short-term rental, we say Airbnb, which I think says it all.”

Public listing

A draft of the new Digital Markets Act is expected to emerge in early December.

Airbnb, which is gearing up for a multibillion-dollar public listing before the end of the year, said: “Travel is a competitive industry and we do not believe that Airbnb, or the sectors in which we operate, raise the concerns that the commission has identified with other companies. Competition in travel has brought significant benefits to European consumers in terms of choice, access and lower prices.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020.