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Sharing Economy Uplifts Downtown Athens

Much-maligned by a small but vocal anti(over)tourism fringe and misguided hoteliers, Airbnb (and copycat platforms, imitation being the most sincere form of flattery) have single-handedly changed Tourism for ever. They have democratised it, spreading benefits widely and deeply into local communities and neighbourhoods. This is very much so in our home city, Athens, where Airbnb and the subway have transformed formerly run-down, down-town areas and offered a lifeline to lower-middle class owners, during the protracted Greek financial crisis which saw unemployment rates soar to 25% (currently at around 18%). The beneficial effects of the tourism sharing economy in Athens, a classic city break and an ancient tourism destination, were recognised in a one-day conference focusing on the future of Tourism Rentals held yesterday, 9 May 2019, in Athens. The event, attended by mayoral and regional candidates with local elections taking place in two weeks, was co-organised by the Athens Merchants Association (ESA) and the Greek Property Owners Association (POMIDA). According to fresh data presented, in 2018 around 9,000 apartments for tourism rental in Athens generated an estimated 90 million Euros of extra revenue for local shops and restaurants, or about 1,000 per rental per annum. All over Greece there are an estimated 70,000 sharing economy-type rentals which means that around 6% of total properties are let through sharing economy channels. A reasonable tax regime and relatively non-bureaucratic regulations are in place since the Autumn of 2018 with income up to 12,000 euros being taxed at 15% - no VAT applies unless the owner is to offer extra services to guests. In recent years significant property taxes which have led thousands of owners to disconnect their second properties, including summer houses, from the electricity grid so as to be tax-exempt, or to sell at low prices to foreign investors. That said, two things are of paramount importance: to safeguard the democratic character of the sharing economy and discourage oligopolies by capping the total number of properties that an owner (individual or company) may let through the sharing economy. Also, to avoid the displacement of current residents by tourists, and the full gentrification of some areas, by providing tax incentives to owners that do not let to tourists, or by subsidising rents, in certain attractive, touristy parts of the city. The key speakers of yesterdays' meeting, besides praising the 'Airbnb effect, fortunately acknowledged these two key issues. Far less prominent, unfortunately, was awareness of another key issue: how to lower the environmental footprint of tourism rentals...

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