Athens vacation rentals’ explosion boosts economy

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As Greece expects yet another boom in tourism this summer, short-term vacation rentals in Athens have reached new record-breaking levels.

According to the independent “Inside Airbnb” service, Athens properties listed on the popular platform have doubled since the beginning of 2017, currently surpassing 5,130.

In a crisis-stricken country, where homeownership has been a long-standing tradition, many proprietors have found it hard in recent years to cope with heavy taxation or mortgage on their properties. Short-term rental has given many of them a way out of their financial dead end, while others see in Airbnb a chance to multiply the profit they would normally make from traditional forms of lease.

“More and more owners of properties near the city center turn to Airbnb, because of the high touristic demand, the considerable earnings and the fiscal framework which still remains vague in Greece,” Dimitrios Vekakis, consultant for Niavis Real Estate and Ergon Investment told Xinhua. “Especially nowadays, not many people can afford to leave a property unexploited,” he added.

A survey conducted by Airbnb and Athens University of Economics and Business from October 2013 to September 2014 has found that 68 percent of the hosts claim that they rely on this income to stay afloat in difficult economic times.

“It offers a stable job that can be done by anyone. You don’t have to be specialized. A high-school graduate and a university professor alike can do this job more or less in the same way,” Demosthenes Tsopanakis told Xinhua inside the home he grew up in at the foothills of the Acropolis. “Who is better at this job only depends on their communication skills and how gifted they are in hospitality,” he added.

27-year-old Tsopanakis and his brother got into the short-term rental business in May 2016, although they had no previous experience in touristic operations. Until then, Tsopanakis didn’t have a stable job, while his younger brother was poorly paid in an office position.

“My family already owned this listed historic building, so we decided to put it on Airbnb and profit as much as we could from it,” he added. The impressive neoclassical building of the early 20th century with the beautiful Parthenon view became an instant hit. This encouraged the Tsopanakis brothers to go deeper in the short-rental industry.

They founded “House of Athens”, a company which now operates five more vacation residences of cultural value in the historical center of Athens and have plans of further expanding their business.

“In only one year, this job has given us very good earnings and has helped us lay a solid foundation for our professional future from a very young age,” Tsopanakis stressed.

According to the same survey, in only one year Airbnb boosted the Greek economy by 69 million euros (81.1 million U.S. dollars) and supported over 1,000 jobs, while attracting new visitors to Athens.

However, little of this money seems to have found its way to public coffers, infuriating hotel owners who denounce unfair competition. Although laws have been passed by the Greek state in order to regulate the short-term rental market, their implementation is still pending, leaving an important legal and fiscal gap in the tourism industry.

As many visitors explain, the main reason behind Airbnb’s phenomenal success is that it meets the increasing need of modern travelers for a more genuine, immersive experience and offers them a chance to peek behind the scenes.

For Syrian-American traveler Farrah Hawana, picking an airbnb for her short stay in Athens was the apparent choice. As she told Xinhua, not only are vacation rentals often cheaper than hotel rooms, but also offer her privacy and a kitchen where she can cook her own meals and save money.

The decisive factor for her, however, is no other than the personal feeling that you would never get in a hotel. “The local touch is irreplaceable, and that’s really what makes tourism interesting,” Hawana said.

In Athens, vacation rentals can be found in more than 25 neighborhoods of the city, while 69 percent of the listings are not located in areas where someone would find hotels easily. As a result, Airbnb takes foreigners to traditionally residential areas, some of them seriously neglected, where until recently tourists would be a rare finding. And this new arrival slowly changes it all.

On the one hand, vacation rentals breathe new life into the small quarters, inducing a much needed urban facelift, encouraging new small businesses to pop up and boosting local economy and real estate market.

“Due to the economic crisis, there is a great number of properties in Athens for sale at very low prices. Lately we receive calls on a daily basis from people, especially foreign funds, who wish to invest in these properties, in order to exploit them as vacation rentals,” Vekakis stressed.

On the other hand, not everyone is happy with this turn. Long time, low income residents find it increasingly difficult to keep or find an affordable quality apartment to rent near the city center, which often leads to their eventual displacement.

“There have been many cases where owners discontinue the long-term lease of their property, in order to put it on Airbnb, because comparatively it’s more profitable, flexible and financially secure,” Vekakis explained.

Many fear that the shift in human geography will alter the unique character of central Athens quarters.

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