The emergence of the platform economy (PE) found cities unprepared, lacking policy tools and regulatory frameworks that would enable them to confront the negative effects of PE, while seizing opportunities for sustainable local development. The negative impact of, digitally mediated, short-term rentals on cities has attracted the interest of academics, researchers, policy-makers, residents’ associations and urban social movements while, at the same time, short-term renting (STR) advocates focus on the limited, yet existent, ways cities benefit from relevant practices. Such benefits include the development and mobilization of a wide range of professions and activities related either directly (construction and renovation, managerial and cleaning services etc.) or indirectly (recreational and commercial spaces, local services addressed to visitors) to the development of the phenomenon, as well as the revitalization and urban regeneration through the renovations and restorations of the declining housing stock in cities’ centers.
However, there is strong evidence that STR has a series of negative effects on the urban environment and on the residents’ quality of life. Τhe spreading of STR tends to put upward pressures on rent prices, as the unofficial and unplanned invasion of touristic accommodation in residential areas, particularly those characterized by a limited housing stock, has been proven to create negative impacts on rental affordability. A large number of dwellings is moved to the touristic accommodation market leading to a limited housing supply, while owners tend to determine the long-term renting price according to the expected profits from short-term ones. As a result, processes of displacement are currently unfolding in touristic and touristified neighborhoods in many cities. Besides undermining urban planning, STR intensifies the use of urban resources, challenges security conditions, frustrates residents’ everyday life and leads to conflicts between residents and short-term tenants. The overall shift of entire districts’ land uses, functions and, subsequently, character has been referred to as touristification and touristic gentrification. Apart from the differentiations concerning the “enabling factors” of touristification and gentrification, some common ground can be found in their results, mostly on the displacement of local residents. However, monofunctionality in terms of land uses appears to be a major impact of touristification. While in the frame of gentrification processes qualitative shifts are apparent, those shifts concern different values and content of services and uses that cover the same needs: those of a permanent resident. Unlike gentrification processes, in this case, the numbers of permanent residents is diminishing, while the new, short-term residents have substantially different needs that are covered by new services and infrastructure. Against this background, residential movements and actions against the effects of STR on their everyday life, described by the press as “tourismophobia”, are rather symptomatic of the aforementioned disturbances.
The aforementioned trends and conditions can be clearly traced in Athens, Greece. As the country is still going through a severe socio-economic crisis, the tourism industry recovered rather quickly, as indicated by the 56% increase in tourist arrivals between 2013 and 2016. This ongoing trend has been accompanied by an overall shift in Athens’ touristic identity, from a one-day stop destination during summer to a year-round, city-break destination. This “boom period”, apart from the recovery of “traditional” tourist destinations, signified the emergence of Athens as a popular city break destination: 5.7 million international tourists visited Athens in just the first 10 months of 2019, as opposed to 2.5 million in 2012, while the Greek capital made it through the “50 most visited cities in the world” list (Euromonitor International, 2018). The city’s framing by the international media as an “exotic”, “alternative” urban landscape, blooming with radical political activity, solidarity initiatives, social venues, art spaces and street art led to the increase of tourist inflows. At the same time, relevant transport and accommodation infrastructure (low-cost flights, platforms such as Aribnb and Booking) further supported the development of touristification processes in numerous Athenian districts. Moreover, STR, despite initially emerging as a rather spontaneous, bottom-up and individual practice that enabled lower and lower-middle income households to “survive” during the crisis, is gradually turning into a large-scale, privately-led mode of urban development. The increased professionalization of the “hosting” activity, along with the emerging economies of scale that allow large companies and investors to reduce their running costs create unfavorable conditions for “small” actors of the STR markets.
Understanding, evaluating and regulating STR is crucial in order to increase social resilience and protect social cohesion. Towards this direction, an important step would be to challenge its framing as part of the so-called “sharing” or “collaborative” economy. STR, along with other PE activities, commercializes aspects of urban life that used to be beyond the reach of the market, while reproducing or even exacerbating dominant relations of production and consumption, often through underpaid, shadow labour and self-exploitation. Those “secondary” effects, traced in the everyday social reproduction of STR have not yet been fully explored and evaluated.