How to rent an Airbnb in Covid times

Photo by Kaspars Upmanis on Unsplash

In the early days of 2021, I moved to Barcelona to study a full time course. The Catalonian capital is one of my all time favorite cities and I was very excited to be able to live, at least for a little while, in one of Europe’s most exciting cities. As soon as I knew my travelling dates, which were a challenge to set due to Covid-19, I started looking for places to stay. Where do you stay in a city you need to study for nine weeks? I admit that the only place that came to mind was Airbnb.

What is the median price of a stay in Barcelona? Which is the most popular district and the least? Could I afford to stay in an entire place? I realized I had no idea where to start looking, so I started doing some research to make the most of this experience. One thing that really caught my attention was the amount of listings that had discount prices. I knew this was a consequence of the pandemic that some hosts were desperate to attract guests, so I really wanted to compare 2019 with 2020 in my search. Pre pandemic year vs pandemic year. How hard did Covid affect the popular hospitality app?

First, how popular is Airbnb in Barcelona? How many people use their property to host guests? It turns out, it is not that popular! Around 2,6% of all the properties in the city were listed in Airbnb in 2019. Already interesting, I would have thought that Barcelona, being a popular tourist destination, was filled with places to stay in Airbnb. But 2,6%, at least to me, feels few. There must be a reasonable explanation for this… It turns out it is illegal to rent out a place in Barcelona without a proper license, this would regulate the supply, which explains the less than expected amount of places to stay.

Comparison of amount of Airbnb listings in Barcelona between 2019 and 2020.

Obviously, the fact that they are listed in Airbnb doesn’t mean they are available to rent. But at least we know the amount of listings that you will find when you type Barcelona in the app. Good thing we have filters!

What about neighborhoods? I wanted a place near the campus so I could enjoy the benefits of it, the campus is located in Poble Nou, near the Agbar Tower and the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya. But is this a popular neighborhood?

Eixample and Ciutat Vella are by far the most popular districts, I knew Ciutat Vella was popular because of the narrow medieval streets and the trendy bars of Barrio Gótico and el Born. But Eixample is where most Airbnb’s are, the district is at the heart of the city, has everything you need and is characterized by its long streets and grid pattern creating perfectly square blocks. It seems Covid had little effect on the amount of listings, there is a slight decrease in almost all of the ten districts, but nothing too alarming, as a matter of fact it was quite expected.

Ok, now I know the popular districts but let’s look at prices between them. There were some attractive price discounts in most listings but, is the most popular district also the most expensive one? Did the pandemic drop prices in most districts? It turns out there is a tight competition for the most expensive district between Eixample and Sarrià-Sant Gervasi.

As expected, being the most popular district, Eixample is one of the most expensive, but surprisingly, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi is the most expensive district. Why is this district that expensive if it is not that popular and does not have that much listings in Airbnb? In fact, it has less than a thousand listings compared to Eixample that has almost seven thousand. Doing some more research on the matter, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi is where most local people live, you will not find that many foreigners compared to other districts, which explains the amount of listings. And it is also the district with more green areas which is always a plus when living in a big city.

Comparing prices between 2019 and 2020, prices did not change that much, most of them dropped, as expected, but in some districts it actually was higher in 2020 than in past years. Did Covid affect the prices of Airbnb? The answer I can give you at this point is no, there is almost no difference in the price. But, how can this be? How can a global stop in the travel industry not affect the prices of the sixth most visited city in europe? The only explanation for me is that most people just left their Airbnb as it was, maybe made their places unavailable but left the rest as it was. At the end, if a tourist somehow made it to Barcelona I’m sure that some people would have hosted them for the extra income.

I had some hopes I would be able to rent a place for myself, but knowing prices were not that affected by the pandemic, my hopes were gone. My focus immediately changed to a private room so I started looking for those. Still, I wanted to see the distribution of the prices by the different types of rooms that are listed in Airbnb and if those prices varied in 2020.

Now we see some impact from the pandemic, hotel prices for a night had a 40% decrease in 2020(Yes, hotels also list their rooms in Airbnb). Entire places and shared rooms both had a decrease of 14% and the finally private rooms had a decrease of 10%. Hotels, it seems, were desperate for attracting guests, and so were hosts. The hotel decrease has me asking questions as to how many customers did they have in 2020. Is there even a way to know this?

Most of these peer to peer services like Airbnb ask their customers to leave a review as soon as the service is over. A review means that at least one guest rented a place by Airbnb. It is not an exact measure but is commonly used to analyze the amount of people that actually rented through the app. First, I want to compare the amount of reviews for 2019 with the amount of reviews for 2020.

Now here is where the pandemic shook Airbnb, 73% less reviews in 2020! This is a big hit. This is what I wanted to see when looking for a place to stay, the impact of the pandemic reflected somehow.

Now, I’m going to Barcelona from January to the end of March. Are these months busy? How seasonal is Airbnb behavior in Barcelona? I broke down the amount of reviews by months to have a clear picture. And it is very clear the behavior of reviews during 2020, the first lockdown the world went through in March and then the second wave in November. It is horrifying the comparison of reviews between the years in the months of April, May and June. My belief is that the summer months are where most people rent through Airbnb. But it is the months of September and October that are the most “busy” in Airbnb. December and January, are the least busy. Which is great, more options to decide where to stay! Looking at the comparison 2020 had a great start actually. February had a 33% increase compared to 2019 but then, pandemic where there were 94% decrease in months like June.

With all this information, I finally knew where to look for a place, what type of place to look for and how much was a fair price. I ended up renting a big private room in Eixample near la Sagrada Familia for a very fair price! I was really happy during my stay and enjoyed Barcelona during these strange times of Covid, but what I most enjoyed is being able to make a great decision with the information to back it up. Hope you are up for some research to make better decisions! It is absolutely worth it!

Photo by Jonas Denil on Unsplash




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Carlos Alberto Martinez

Carlos Alberto Martinez

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