Controversial vacation fun - holiday homes a contentious subject | DW Travel | DW | 12.06.2015
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Controversial vacation fun - holiday homes a contentious subject

Whether it's in Berlin, on the North or Baltic Sea or in the Alps - many holiday makers want their own space. Experts speak of profits running into the millions, but resistance to holiday rentals is growing.

Deutschland Ostseestrand von Kühlungsborn in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

The Baltic Sea resort town Kühlungsborn in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania

Good value for money, uncomplicated and room for all the family: holiday apartments and houses are popular in Germany. Hundreds of thousands will be making use of this form of accommodation again this year. How many exactly no one really knows, because the market has become confusing. This is one reason why holiday lettings have become a bone for contention - in cities as much as in rural coastal areas. One mayor says there is a war amongst local authorities looming.

His name is Rainer Karl and he is the head of the local authority in Kühlungsborn on the Baltic Sea. Holiday apartments, the independent politician says, have been around for as long as holiday makers have headed for the coast, so at least a couple of centuries. "But in the past the person letting the accommodation would live in the same property," he tells us, which has now changed.

A huge growth-market

Deutschland Ferienwohnungen Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin

The increase in the number of vacation rentals is a controversial topic in Berlin

"The growing demand for holiday accommodation has led to people deciding to move out and offer their entire house for rent," he adds. This in turns leads to urban areas slowly, house by house, turning into holiday camps - much to the annoyance of those locals who remain there. They see their tranquil life close to the coast endangered, as well as their cheap rents and their employment at local hotels threatened.

In that sense the small town of Kühlungsborn has a lot in common with big cities like Berlin, where the term "holiday lettings" has turned into somewhat of an emotive expression. Berlin's senate assumes there are 12,000 such holiday flats in the city - even though it is illegal to turn rented accommodation into holiday homes. Along the coast action groups have been formed both for and against holiday home rentals.

Mathias Feige, head of the tourist advice bureau dwif, says it’s a highly dynamic market subject to extreme developments. To begin with internet letting agencies made it possible for anyone to find holiday rentals and to compare prices. Then individuals began temporarily offering their homes or rooms in their homes as holiday accommodation - using websites like Airbnb, 9flats, Gloveler or Wimdu. Digitalization and the trend to share via the internet have helped expand this market.

The only ones who appear to have missed this trend, according to Feige, are the local authorities. It only counts commercial letting agencies which start at a minimum of 10 beds. Anything that falls below that line also falls through the net of local statistics. According to their numbers in 2014 there were some 321,000 beds on offer in holiday homes and flats - a few thousand less than a decade earlier.

But in reality, according to a survey conducted by Feige and his team, there are around one million beds on offer - mainly along the coast and in the mountains, but a growing number in cities too. The authors of the study estimate that the holiday makers account for an annual turnover of some eight billion euro for local authorities.

Tourism fears for its image

Deutschland Strandresidenz-Kühlungsborn in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

An apartment rental in Kühlungsborn

The numbers were jointly published by FeWo-direkt, one of the oldest holiday rental platforms and the German Tourist Board. The survey cautioned against too many restrictions on "Germany's holiday makers' second most popular choice for overnight stays". This warning comes against the backdrop of several court rulings banning holiday home rentals from urban areas because of a breach of an age-old law governing building use. Along the coast local authorities are inspecting holiday rentals, and occasionally ban some places from renting altogether - something the tourist board criticizes, saying that Germany's tourism reputation could be seriously damaged.

Investors and individuals, those who have invested large sums in lucrative holiday rentals, are also alarmed because, as the tourist authorities point out: "Many people renting out their properties did so in the belief that they were acting within the law." Tourist authorities are therefore asking for the laws on building use regulation to be amended. Kühlungsborn mayor Karl uses the town of Rerik, which is 10 kilometers away from his municipality as an example, saying "this needs to be tackled on a case-by-case basis". Tourism in Rerik now depends to 70 percent on holiday apartment rentals. Kühlungsborn, in comparison, can easily do with a few less visitors at the height of the season. As the mayor points out: "We have a beach which is only four kilometers long and 200 meters broad, so space is limited."