Painted sign in Coimbra complaining about tourists using Airbnb

The Airbnb Ban issue, is it a responsible way to travel?

“Dear tourist,” the graffiti in Coimbra read, “one Airbnb tourist kicks two to three students out of our city – enjoy.” I came across this message on my first night in Portugal, and as a full-time traveller who uses Airbnb almost exclusively in expensive parts of the world, it made for uncomfortable reading. This Airbnb ban issue has been playing on my mind ever since and I can’t help asking myself, has Airbnb become an irresponsible way to travel?

Painted sign in Coimbra complaining about tourists using Airbnb

Why we use Airbnb

When we started travelling full-time in 2013, Airbnb was a relatively new platform. Hosts were mainly using it to rent out their spare room, make a bit of cash and meet some new people. Take the British couple we stayed with in New Zealand who made us dinner, for example, and Wendy in New Hampshire who lent us a kayak, or the World Travel Family, who hosted us in Port Douglas and have become friends we’ve since met up with in various corners of the world.

The wood burner in our Aibnb cabin in Maine

An Airbnb cabin in Maine

Yes, we’ve had problems with Airbnb too – bedbugs, last-minute cancellations and less-than-friendly hosts – but at its best, the site offers a homelier experience. You get to stay with a local who can offer advice about the area and you get perks such as access to a kitchen, washing machine and even cute pets. Then there’s the price. Travelling as a couple, we find that in expensive parts of the world such as Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, you get far more for your money using Airbnb than booking hotels or even hostels.

Amy's bedbug bites

Bedbug bites from an Airbnb in Philly

As our travel style has changed over the years and we’ve begun working remotely, Airbnb has also allowed us to rent whole apartments on a short-term basis. This means we can balance work and exploring, cook healthy meals and enjoy home comforts we miss when we stay in guesthouses and hotels. We’ve just spent a month in a great apartment outside of Porto, for instance, and in the past few years we’ve also rented flats in Spain, Thailand and Croatia. Tomorrow, we move to another apartment in Prague for four weeks.

Bike and house in Cape Cod, USA

Our Cape Cod Airbnb host lent us bicycles to explore

So, why the Airbnb ban?

In recent years, there’s been a huge commercial shift towards hosts renting out investment properties on Airbnb as short-term lets, with the sole purpose of making a profit. This is disrupting already strained housing markets in cities like Amsterdam, which has a crippling shortage of affordable housing. Airbnb may not be the root cause of these housing problems, but it’s definitely exacerbating the problem, hence the graffiti in Coimbra.

While ‘sharing economy’ services like Airbnb and Uber, which has recently been banned in London, might have started as a way for regular people to share their home or car in exchange for a bit of extra cash, they’ve now reached the point where people are using them to run full-scale businesses. It’s no wonder hotels and black cab drivers are getting pissed off when they’re being undercut by people who don’t have to pay the same licence fees or abide by the same legislation that they do.

View of the houses of Parliament and Big Ben from Westminster Bridge in London

London, one of Airbnb’s biggest markets

This Airbnb ban issue is also tangled up with debates about the detrimental effects of mass tourism. Take the wave of anti-tourism protests that took place in Europe this summer, starting in Spain, a country that saw a record 75.6 million tourists visit last year (17.8 million of those visitors were from the UK). In Spain, there were even reports of people setting off flares outside of tourist restaurants and slashing the tires of tour buses.

View of Dubrovnik from Fort Lovrijenac

Dubrovnik, Croatia’s top tourist destination

Protests and marches also took place in Dubrovnik, Rome and Venice and anti-tourism graffiti has been popping up in countless other European destinations. A few weeks ago in Lisbon we saw anti-cruise ship graffiti and messages stating: ‘Mass tourism = human pollution.’ There’s even a ‘We hate tourism tour’ in Lisbon, which aims to strike back at the destructive kinds of tourism and instead encourage visitors to travel responsibly.

Where is Airbnb legal?

These problems are so bad that many cities around the world have now introduced restrictions or an Airbnb ban. As one of our readers Nikki recently commented:

“We had a booking cancel in Amsterdam after an Airbnb crackdown. Then we couldn’t get a place in Berlin due to the city ban. We have a stay in Vancouver, Canada coming up that we were allowed to get only because we were staying more than 30 days (no Airbnbs less than 30 days allowed). And we are cancelling a two-month stop in Victoria, Canada because Airbnb legislation is pending and the owners are all scared to take reservations right now.”

So exactly where is Airbnb illegal? Here’s a look at some of the cities banning Airbnb or restricting it:

Barcelona – in Barcelona, it’s illegal to rent out an apartment on Airbnb without a licence. Raids are common and there’s even a phone line you can call to tip authorities off about illegal rentals, the maximum fine is €60,000.

A boat on a canal in Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Amsterdam – property owners can rent out their home for a maximum of 60 days a year and to no more than four people at a time. Hosts are now legally required to report their listing to local authorities and fines for breaching the rules can run to over €20,000.

Airbnb legal issues UK – in London, hosts cannot rent entire homes out for more than 90 calendar nights a year. Since the beginning of 2017, Airbnb have introduced a technical feature that automatically limits listings to 90 days.

New York Airbnb law – has banned short-term rentals and hosts can’t rent out an entire apartment for less than 30 days. The ban is for all home-sharing sites and even advertising a short-term rental is illegal and can earn a fine of up to $7,500.

View of Manhattan by Night

New York

Paris – you’re not allowed to rent an apartment out for more than 120 days a year, same goes for many other French cities. The hosts have to register with local authorities and Airbnb collects local tourist taxes from guests.

Berlin Airbnb law – hosts can rent out up to 50 percent of a property they live in, but entire homes can only be rented under special circumstances and you need a licence that’s very difficult to get. Fines run up to €100,000, making it one of the toughest Airbnb crackdowns.

San Francisco – hosts can only rent out an entire property for 90 days a year but they must have a business licence, insurance, meet building standards and pay taxes on reservations of less than 30 nights.

Reykjavik – since the beginning of 2017, hosts can only rent out apartments for up to 90 days a year and make a maximum of one million Icelandic Kronor per year. Hosts also need to register a property, meet health and safety regulations and get a hospitality licence.

Still wondering where is Airbnb legal? You can find out more specific details from Airbnb itself.

Should I stop using Airbnb?

So, are we being responsible travellers by using Airbnb so much? It’s a difficult dilemma, as Nikki commented:

“I understand the backlash against Airbnb and tourism in general, but I wouldn’t want to travel if I had to stay in hotels. I want to do the right thing too. It’s a very difficult dilemma.”

Like Nikki, I love the flexibility of being able to rent apartments for a month at a time and I’m not sure I’d be able to do that if it weren’t for Airbnb. Whilst we still stay in hotels, guesthouses and hostels sometimes, we prefer the perks of staying in a home and I’m sure our accommodation costs would spiral in places like Europe if we didn’t have the option of using Airbnb. However, I want to travel responsibly.

Is Airbnb a responsible way to travel? The Airbnb ban issue is a huge consideration for travellers.

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As for the wider anti-tourism issue, as a full-time traveller, it hurts. I understand that in summer some European cities are so swamped with tourists that they become un-liveable for local residents. It must be horrendous for locals in Dubrovnik, for instance, when up to five cruise ships descend on their tiny city every day. Similarly, I’ll never go to an Italian city during the summer again after visiting Florence last July where I queued for hours in theme-park like lines to visit its museums and cathedrals.

The crowds in Florence

Saying that, I also used to live in London and work near London Bridge, so I know what it’s like to live in a touristy place, to commute on packed tube trains, to pay high rental prices and fight my way through crowded streets. Yes, tourism has its downsides, but I actually liked the fact that London was so full of people from all parts of the world, that you could walk along the street and hear so many different languages. I felt proud that so many people wanted to visit the city I called home.

Tourism, at the end of the day, doesn’t regulate itself. It’s up to individual governments to, for instance, regulate how much tourist accommodation they allow in their cities. All we can do as travellers, bar staying at home, is try to travel as responsibly as possible. Will I stop using Airbnb? Probably not, but I do hope the Airbnb restrictions relieve some of these housing and mass tourism problems.

What do you think? Do you use Airbnb, are you on board with the bans?

  • Pat Hemphill
    Posted at 11:31h, 17 November Reply

    Hi Amy and Andrew….I have known for a loooong time that tourism is killing this planet. Having said that I am in the Hospitality and Tourism Industry and gain my income from said tourists!!

    As a tour guide, a few days back, I took my clients to Cape Town, South Africa for a three day stay there. The city was busrting at the seams with tourists from around the world. So while it was filling the pockets of every hotel, restaurant and taxi / bus service…it was destroying the city…big time!

    Cape Town is in the midst of the worst drought in living memory…..and there is talk of the city running out of water by March 2018. It is not difficult to calculate the amount of taps, showers, laundry of tons of linen, towels, etc. during this entire summer period of this peak tourism season. Each tourist has very little concern for the problems plagueing the areas they visit. Taps and showers are left running until the hot water spurts out…the precious liquid gurgling down the plug-hole. Thousands of toilets are flushed constantly thoughout the day…and so it goes on.

    I have found that some foreigner visitors to a country are pretty irresponsible…walking over indigenous plants to get a good photo, harassing wild life to get a good shot. This water issue is an unknown factor in many of their home countries. I can see Cape Town also putting a restriction to the influx of tourist, in the not too distant future….as it is now a matter of sheer survival.

    Many, many locals benifit from tourism…..but the planet is suffering under the pressure. There will be a point where cities around the world will also be restricting the number of tourist invading their space, and sucking up their natural resources, exacerbating pollution, interferring with the peace and quality of life of ethic cultures. (Sapa in Vietnam and the Himba peoples of Namibia come to mind) . Unfortunately there are a huge number of countries whose survival relies very heavily on tourism, and those countries will not heed the signs of ‘over grazing’ until it may be too late!

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:35h, 18 November Reply

      Hi Pat, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and for sharing your experiences. I had no idea about the issues in Cape Town, it sounds like a difficult time and it’ll be interesting to see if the government does put a cap on tourism to try to control things. We’ve been talking a lot lately about tourism and how we can travel more responsibly (this is partly why we’ve gone vegan) and whether in 10 – 20 years time people will actually be able to travel much at all due to climate/water wars and issues. It’s a worrying time to be a human. Sapa was a real disappointment for us when we re-visited earlier this year and saw how destroyed it had been from our first visit several years ago. Thanks for reading Pat, we appreciate it 🙂

  • Patti
    Posted at 18:47h, 17 November Reply

    Very relevant topic Amy and Andrew with no easy answer.

    As for the students feeling as if they’re being shut out, it is true to some degree, but I also believe many apartment owners do not want to rent to students. It’s a Catch-22 situation, I think. We are based in Porto for 3 months and in having conversations with a real estate agent, she did believe AirBnB was definitely impacting the housing market in the city of Porto, and not in a good way.

    It is seemingly true that some cities are just overwhelmed with tourists, Venice comes to mind. I recently read an article that stated very local people are moving out of the city because it has become too difficult to navigate the tourists. When we were planning our recent 8-week summer tour of Europe, we purposely stayed away from Italy as everything I researched said don’t go anywhere near Italy in the summer.

    It will be interesting to see how the AirBnB situation plays out.

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:17h, 18 November Reply

      Thanks for your thoughts Patti and the view of the real estate agent, I wonder if we’ll soon see the Portuguese government restricting Airbnb properties. Yes, I’ve heard that Venice is particularly bad too; Italy and Spain seem to be suffering the most from mass tourism. I wonder also whether limiting how many cruise ships dock in a destination every day could be the first step in tackling the mass tourism problems.

      • Patti
        Posted at 19:53h, 25 November Reply

        I came across this 4-minute video today and immediately thought of your article. It’s about how AirBnB owners are making it difficult for locals to live in the city.

        • Amy
          Posted at 12:23h, 26 November Reply

          Thanks for sharing Patti, that’s a great video and it really hits the nail on the head. I definitely think cities in that position are going to have to cap short-term lets of entire properties. It’ll be interesting to see how this all moves forward.

  • Yvette
    Posted at 03:07h, 18 November Reply

    No I would not stay in a AirBnB, the remove housing stock, leading to housing shortage, which leads to higher rents, which leads to poverty, which leads to homelessness. Plus, it takes TOT, VAT, and other tax money away from city or town to support infrastructure, and social services. Plus, any rental less than 30 days is illegal in most municipalities. Then we enter the area of personal safety, no safety or fire inspections, no licensing, so no background check or commercial insurance to protect you if you’re hurt in the property while staying there. Homeowner’s insurance will not cover a paying guest, a commercial transaction.
    That’s been done in very few places, and the minor part of the problem. The first part of the impact on housing stock is the major part. I live in a destination area. People pull housing stock off the market, why rent a two bedroom apartment or condo for $2000 a month, when you can make that in a week. We had a less than a 2% vacancy rate for the last ten years. Rents have tripled in the last five years, from $1,500 a month to $4,500 a month. Our rate of homeless families, has gone up, but hard to track. There is nothing to buy for under $600,000, our children can’t qualify to buy a home in the towns they were born in.

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:23h, 18 November Reply

      Thanks for reading and commenting Yvette, you make some very good points. Out of interest and if you don’t mind sharing, where do you live? It sounds like your home city has been particularly badly hit and I wonder whether there are any restrictions in your area and if so, if they’re making any positive difference? Taking this on board, lately we’ve been trying to book Airbnbs that wouldn’t necessarily be rented out on a long-term basis for tenants, such as spare rooms in family homes for a couple of nights or the flat we’re in now in Prague, which is an annexe to a family home in the suburbs, not an entire flat in the city centre.

  • Emma
    Posted at 13:45h, 18 November Reply

    Have you thought about staying with proper
    Home Stay providers instead? They are what AirBNB used to be (and sometimes still is), staying with a family in heir home. Good home stay programs are often community-run and are a cheaper and more sustainable accommodation option, which also gives you a chance to meet locals and experience their way of life. It also puts money back into the community, into real people’s hands who need it. We are travelling as a family and have the same reservations about using Airbnb, and not so keen on hostels. It can be harder finding homestays but plenty are around.

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:20h, 18 November Reply

      Hi Emma, thanks for your comment. We haven’t thought about Home Stays actually, so thanks for the suggestion. That could work really well for short stays. The problem we have is more when we want to stay somewhere for just a month and need our own space to work from home too – it’s a difficult dilemma. We’re slowly transitioning to living in places for longer stretches of time though (as we did for 10 months in Thailand this/last year) so that means we can rent through a local estate agency. What websites do you use to find home stays?

  • Maddie
    Posted at 17:13h, 18 November Reply

    I’ve been wondering if you’d write about this since seeing your photo a while ago. We were early adopters of Airbnb and it has come to be one of our favourite ways to book accommodation. I have to admit that I was totally ignorant to some of the problems it’s caused in these cities.

    We tend to book Airbnb if we’re either staying somewhere longer or in a group where it’s more cost-effective but some of our most enjoyable experiences have been renting a room in someone’s house and really getting to know an area due to the local knowledge. I’m feeling really conflicted after reading this…

    I do think tourism overall is becoming a major problem in a lot of areas. I’ve seen it in Dubrovnik and the Isle of Skye, Iceland and even tiny Bar Harbor in Maine. Cruise ships and numbers of tourists within certain areas need to start to be regulated to protect them for future generations.

    • Amy
      Posted at 19:01h, 18 November Reply

      Hi Maddie, yes, Airbnb is great for groups too, I forgot to mention that. We’ve also just had some great experiences in France staying with hosts in their spare rooms for odd nights as we pass through, I would miss that aspect if we stopped using Airbnb. Yes, I totally agree that cruise ship regulation is a good place to start, there’s no easy answer though to the whole debate. I too am feeling conflicted still!

  • Nikki T
    Posted at 10:25h, 19 November Reply

    Excellent and thought-provoking post Amy! It is such a difficult and emotionally charged issue that I am not sure what I should do. We slow-travel staying 30-60 days in each place. I also jog before traffic starts, do yoga and eat vegan. That doesn’t lend itself to staying in hotels or even in people’s spare rooms long-term (which we do for shorter stays). An integral part of my experience of countries has been the home itself. I rent from only locals (this keeps the money local unlike larger hotels where the bulk of the profits leave the host country) who have kitted out the places with local housewares. I have learned so much from this – seven different ways to make coffee, how to haggle at produce markets, how to relate to my local neighbors, how to cook with any style of kitchen/cookware, the temperature stabilization of living in a cave home, the pleasures of private rooftop terraces in Morocco…. Being an American that’s only ever lived in track housing less than 20 years old, I am almost as thrilled with the variations of housing styles around the world as I am with the destinations. No, I think we would quit the nomadic life before we’d be relegated to hotels. I realize that there is too much tourism in the world today, but at the same time the world needs travelers. To quote Alexander Von Humboldt from the early 1800s, “The most dangerous worldviews are the worldviews of those that have not viewed the world.” The last thing the world needs is more insularity. We just need to find the correct balance. I hope governments can do this before it’s too late. Thanks for taking on a complex topic!

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:14h, 19 November Reply

      Hi Nikki, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts again, you make a great case for staying in Airbnbs. We too have had great experiences renting with locals and don’t think this lifestyle would be possible staying in hotels as we really need space to work and cook (vegan like you!). I think you really summed it up well by saying we need to find the correct balance and that it’s up to governments to tackle this issue. Love the quote too!

  • Fern
    Posted at 01:23h, 28 May Reply

    “..we really need space to work and cook”

    So do the people who actually live in these places. ‘Travelling’ in the modern sense is just another flavour of mass tourism and none of it is sustainable. Formerly, travel meant having to work with the fabric of a place – getting to and from it and finding a bed when you got there was part of the process, but the ease of booking ahead and flying to in places in a manner and style that conveniences you at your own whim is not travel that would have been recognised by any ‘itinerant’ before about fifteen years ago. Going vegan and jogging before breakfast are not even drops in the ocean of responsible and sensitive behaviours in host countries. Taking existing practices and habits into a place in which you are not invested in any meaningful way is ultimately detrimental to the indigent community. AirBnB is just the inevitable edge of a capitalist movement that monetises and trivialises a process that individuals have been managing pretty sustainably for literally thousands of years by not assuming ‘Home comforts’ in a place that is not home. That’s sort of the point. It’s not supposed to be easy.

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:53h, 29 May Reply

      Hi Fern, thanks for your comment and for sharing your thoughts. I can understand your point of view, yes, the way people travel and work has changed drastically in recent years. I can’t afford to travel unless I work as I go, so I need accommodation that has an internet connection at the bare minimum for this. I’d love to be able to travel in the way that you describe, but it’s not sustainable. Saying that, we are moving away from renting whole apartments on Airbnb because of the reasons I discussed in the post. Now, we rent spare rooms if anything and are planning to move to one country where we’ll rent through a local estate agency, have jobs (Andrew teaching, me freelancing but paying taxes in the host country) so that we contribute to the community, in the way that we lived and working in Vietnam.

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