The first paying guests to the ground-floor studio flat newly posted on Airbnb were innocuous enough: A family, come to experience the joys of Paris, like many millions of others.
Franck Briand, who lives in the apartment directly above, now, looks back on that moment as the start of what he calls his Airbnb ânightmare.â The ensuing four years, he says, have been an incessant carousel of late-night parties, drunken revellers and the rattle of newly arrived groups, sometimes 15 at a time, dragging wheeled suitcases across the cobbled courtyard.
âI want to leave,â Briand says. âBut I said to myself that it shouldnât be the weakest, those under threat, who give in.â
Paris, long one of the worldâs top destinations, is still grateful for the billions of euros (dollars) that tourists pump into the French capitalâs economy and the 300,000 jobs they sustain. But Parisians and City Hall officials also are expressing deep qualms about having so many visitors directly in their midst, no longer largely corralled in hotels but instead living, albeit temporarily, cheek-by-jowl with locals in properties rented online.
The backlash in Paris against intrusive, on-your-doorstep tourism hasnât yet reached the proportions of other heavily visited cities. Venice and Barcelona, among other destinations, have seen repeated protests. But concerns voiced in top European destinations are often the same: That mass tourism and its online platforms are hollowing cities out, driving away locals with higher prices, higher rents and sheer inconvenience.
Jacques Boutault, mayor of Parisâ central 2nd arrondissement, is among those sounding the alarm. The rectangular district he oversees, boxed in by some of the cityâs must-visit sites, including the Pompidou art museum, has experienced a precipitous population decline as Airbnb has taken Paris by storm, with more listings than any other city worldwide.
âThe population is changing completely, from those who have been here for years to one that is just passing through,â says Boutault, the district mayor since 2001. The 2nd arrondissement has lost 3,000 inhabitants in the past four years, more than 10 per cent of its total and many of the families, he says. The districtâs schools have shut three classes as a result.
âI donât want to be the mayor of a museum, thatâs to say pretty walls where people spend a bit of time and then leave,â Boutault says. âItâs important that town centres remain authentic and alive. In fact, thatâs what tourists come for.â
In 2012, Airbnb had 4,000 Paris-area listings. That surged to more than 40,000 by 2015, when Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky was welcomed at City Hall. Three years on, Airbnb counts 65,000 listings inside Paris alone. But relations with City Hall have soured.
Paris Deputy Mayor Ian Brossat, in charge of housing, says the capital has lost 20,000 homes in five years, âhomes that were lived in by Parisians but are now populated by tourists. They are no longer homes, they are clandestine hotels.â
âAirbnb has veered away from its original model,â he says. âWeâve gone from a sharing economy to a type of predatory economy, with professionals that bought homes, sometimes buildings, in bulk to transform them into cash machines. So our role is to restore some order.â
To regulate the growth of Airbnb and similar platforms, Paris has since December required proprietors who list online to register. Parisians are only allowed to rent out the property they actually live into tourists, and for a total of no more than 120 days a year. Any other Paris residence they may have canât be rented to tourists at all.
But even with inspection teams going door-to-door and fines for the most egregious violators, the rules remain scantily enforced. Brossat is now lobbying for a blanket ban on tourist rentals in central Paris, arguing that homeowners in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th arrondissements â âthose most impacted by the Airbnb phenomenon,â he says â should still be allowed to rent out spare rooms but not their entire property.
Airbnb France, in a statement, called Brossatâs proposal âout of touch with public opinion, divorced from legal reality.â It said renting out properties on Airbnb helps Parisians âboost their income and afford rising living costs in their communities, where housing capacity has failed to meet the demand for decades.â
More pressure on Airbnb and similar sites is coming with a new housing law about to get parliamentâs final blessing. It opens the door for large fines to be levied against sites that host properties not in conformity with French regulations.
Brossat expects the law to mark a turning point.
âThe gentrification of Paris didnât start with Airbnb. But Airbnb is an accelerator of gentrification,â he said. âThe risk is that Paris becomes a city no longer lived in by inhabitants but solely by tourists or foreign investors.â