by Aritz Parra, The Associated Press, January 30, 2017
MADRID (AP) — Despite fierce opposition from hotel and business owners, Barcelona officials agreed Friday to curb the number of rooms for tourists in the city center in a move aimed at appeasing residents angry about sky-high property prices.
The City Council approved the proposal from Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, a former activist who made herself a name campaigning against evictions ordered by banks when tenants failed to repay mortgages.
Soon after she took office in 2015, Colau imposed a moratorium on new licenses for hotels, serviced apartments and other establishments offering tourist accommodations.
The new plan grants a limited number of licenses in the outskirts of the city, but no new permits are expected downtown even if current businesses close down.
"We have to stop this free-flow that operates without any control in the city," Janet Sanz, a deputy mayor in charge of urban planning and a close aide of Colau's, said.
Hotel and retail business groups issued a joint statement on Friday criticizing what they consider to be the latest move by the mayor to "demonize" tourism. The industry says tourism accounts for 14 percent of Barcelona's GDP and employs over 100,000 people.
Nuria Paricio, director of Barcelona Oberta, an association of more than 6,700 shops and businesses, said tourism was being turned into "a scourge."
"This plan is not going to stop the illegal apartments that are appearing like mushrooms in Airbnb and other platforms and that are responsible for pushing the prices of rentals in apartments," Paricio said.
Colau government has initiated legal battles against online platforms that allow homeowners to rent out their properties without paying occupancy taxes. It also has pledged to increase the number of inspectors combing the city for unlicensed apartments from 20 to 110 in 2018.
Barcelona, with 1.6 million permanent residents, received 32 million visitors in 2016, according to local authorities, although more than half of them only made day trips while staying in nearby coastal towns or on cruise ships.
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