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Disneyland effect on Italian Cities

Are the main Italian cities going to become ghost towns brought to life only by tourists? According to a new report from the University of Siena, Airbnb, a worldwide accommodation service, is pushing permanent residents out of historic city centres, creating a “Disneyland effect” in places such as Florence.

According to the study, residents prefer to rent out properties to tourists rather than living themselves in big cities. For example, in Florence, one in five properties in the historic centre is being rented out through Airbnb, turning the city into a “theme park for tourists”. Every single flat on a short-term let is one flat less in the regular long-term market, depriving the market of properties that could be used by permanent residents. Almost 20 per cent of the entire housing stock in the historic centre of Florence is listed on Airbnb. This situation is even more worrying in the historic city of Matera, in the south of Italy, where more than 25 per cent of the local housing stock is available to be rented on Airbnb.

The problem is that Airbnb website was supposed to distribute tourism revenue across cities, but according to the report a handful of landlords are now monopolising the Airbnb market. There is great inequality in the distribution of revenue. Every city has a few super hosts that sometimes own hundreds of properties. Citizens are also penalised by the increased prices of everyday items, because city retailers focus on tourists, knowing that they will pay more than locals for goods.

One of the most significant cases is a "super host" in Milan, believed to have earned €500,000 in 2016.

The situation wasn’t much different before Airbnb came along but it is now accelerating the “Disneyland effect”. For example, the Venetian population was reducing well before Airbnb, because of the number of residential properties being converted into hotels. 

More could be done to reduce the impact of Airbnb on city centres, and the platform could be used to boost local economies in less popular parts of the city. The report suggests imposing taxes on city centre listings, but not on more suburban dwellings. If local authorities could somehow encourage people who live outside the historic centre to list their properties on Airbnb, this could have a positive effect on local economies, by distributing wealth deriving from tourism.

Another measure could be to impose a limit on the number of days per year that a person can rent their property through Airbnb, as it is in Amsterdam.   

When it comes to Italy tax evasion is always a major problem, this is also the case for Airbnb. The newspaper “La stampa” reported that in 2014 Airbnb’s turnover in Italy was 2,4 billion and tax evasion amounted to more than 110 billion to be added to 57 million of unpaid tourism taxes. The law infringement damages the tourism business and all those who rent out properties in compliance with the law. 

Giulia Lombardo

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