Barcelona, the travel startup boom & the rise of peer-to-peer



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Guest post written by Natalie Batlle, Steven Douglas and Emily Elwes, Trip4Real

Barcelona: A sharing city on the rise, Barcelona is the place to go if you want to share a taxi with a stranger, have dinner at a professional chef’s house or live like a local when you’re traveling. These experiences make up part of the current zeitgeist sweeping the world: collaborative consumption. But the significance of the trend to this Mediterranean capital and its community holds even more importance than for most other European cities. Peer-to-peer platforms in this city have struck an important balance between serving a community in need of support and a reliable source of income, and a local tourism industry in need of innovation.

The ecosystem: Cosy & tight-knit

So why are experience-based peer-to-peer companies finding Barcelona so welcoming? The city has rapidly become an entrepreneurial hub, with more than 150 startups sprouting up in the last few years, making it one of Europe’s strongest startup ecosystems. The low overheads caused by the country’s stressed economy have helped fledgling businesses thrive in the city, despite economic adversity and the significant lack of support networks for entrepreneurs. But the surge in coworking spaces, collaborative spirit and expat energy have been contributing towards what has become a tight-knit community not afraid to shake things up.

Business defined by culture: Don’t stop us now

The strength and resilience of the Catalan culture, a culture that is distinctive from the rest of Spain, plays a significant role in this flourishing start-up scene. Fiercely independent, motivated and cautious are words frequently used to describe the Catalans. Their longing for self-determination is not a new concept, with more than 80% of the city’s voting population declaring themselves as pro-Catalan independence in the November 2014 referendum. It’s this perseverance which explains partly why businesses are doing so well here.

The Lifestyle: Living the dream

The international credentials that Barcelona boasts, along with its Mediterranean lifestyle, are part and parcel of why the city attracts entrepreneurial and creative minds. This mix of beach, urban life and the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere also demonstrates why over 100 million tourists have visited the city in the last 20 years.

Barcelona’s Economy: The travel industry

It should come as no surprise that travel startups are on the rise in Barcelona, given the huge influence the tourism & travel industry has on the city. With only 1.7 million residents hosting as many as 7 million tourist annually, mass tourism, big hotels & cruise liners dominate the urban landscape. In fact, the city’s rising popularity has been making the headlines frequently, with residents protesting against the effects of mass tourism , and the city outrunning Rome in becoming Europe’s third most visited tourist destination after London & Paris.

But Barcelona is fast becoming a victim of its own success, with polls singling it out as the most ‘disappointing’ destination in Europe. This is perhaps why p2p platforms are emerging to bypass ‘the man’ and break down barriers between conglomerate-controlled tourism and local residents. These small companies are giving rise to a whole new notion of tourism – one that is people driven & community-controlled.

A survey conducted by Airbnb, where Barcelona represents one of their biggest markets worldwide, showed that people are staying 2.4 times longer in Barcelona in Airbnb properties than in hotels, and this diffusion of accommodation has contributed an enormous $175 million to the local economy, mostly in communities outside of the tourist centre. This is keeping the residents enamoured by the prospect of becoming directly involved in the city’s largest economy, and satisfying tourists with a more ‘authentic’ experience of the city and avoiding mass tourism traps.

And the National Economy?

Spain’s financial crisis has caused 20% unemployment, and specifically over 50% youth unemployment, forcing younger & older generations to become more innovative, independent and creative to simply earn a living. Barcelona’s booming p2p platforms, with their hundreds of informal hosts, guides and chefs all offer a very real and brilliantly simple opportunity to generate income by enabling people to become micro-entrepreneurs on their own terms, in the city’s biggest and most profitable industry.

Company Success Stories

Besides Airbnb’s penetration, one of the city’s big p2p success stories is trip4real. Now Europe’s market leader for peer-to-peer travel experiences and unique things to do, the Barcelona start-up cleverly connects local residents directly with travelers. Local trendsetters, hobbyists and professionals alike use their platform to design bespoke experiences and tours in Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and the UK. Activities in Barcelona run the gamut from clandestine supperclubs and modernism tours, to day trips to the Priorat wine region and sailing along the Catalonian coast.

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For more information about Trip4Real,read the trip4real Pioneer Interview.

For more collaborative economy service examples in Barcelona, view the Barcelona City Guide.


One thought on “Barcelona, the travel startup boom & the rise of peer-to-peer

  1. Really nice article. It shows the clear trend of users wanting a truly personalised experience while relying only on local advices.

    It discusses a lot what I mentioned in my blog post:

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