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Mexico tourist deaths add to calls for vacation rental regulation

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The sun sets behind the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City./AFP
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Feb 03, 2023 - 07:44 AM

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — A vacation to watch the Mexican Grand Prix ended in tragedy for one tourist poisoned by carbon monoxide, fueling calls for regulation of popular accommodation rental websites like Airbnb and Booking.com.

Angelica Arce, 29, traveled to Mexico City with her two younger siblings in October from the northwestern Mexican border city of Tijuana to watch the Formula One motor racing.

They rented a short-stay apartment through the online platform Booking.com.

Inside, a poorly installed water heater was leaking carbon monoxide — a colorless, odorless gas that can pose a lethal threat to human health.

All three began to feel unwell and were hospitalized.

Arce died at dawn on October 30.

“May her death not be in vain,” said her mother, Gloria Ojeda.

Arce is just one of several people killed recently by suspected carbon monoxide leaks in Mexico City — prompting increased pressure for authorities to urgently regulate online vacation rentals.

In total, four young people died in late October in private accommodation rented through Airbnb and Booking.com in Mexico City, according to officials.

Prosecutors said three tourists from the United States lost their lives in an apartment due to gas poisoning, though the boyfriend of one of the victims was unconvinced.

He said his girlfriend had told him she felt like she had been drugged before returning to the accommodation.

‘How many more deaths?’ 

So far regulations introduced in Mexico City for online vacation rentals have been limited to the issue of taxes.

“I don’t understand what the authorities are waiting for,” Ojeda told AFP.

“How many more deaths do they want?” she asked.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has assured people that rules are being drawn up for the sector.

Ojeda wants them to define responsibilities when problems or tragedies happen.

“The apartment owner hasn’t even sent us a message to say ‘I’m sorry,'” she said.

The family has exchanged emails with Booking.com and received a phone call from its headquarters in Amsterdam.

The company offered a refund voucher worth $600 as compensation, Ojeda said.

Influx of digital nomads 

Arce’s relatives hired a lawyer to monitor the official investigation and to try to obtain compensation from the property owner and Booking.com.

“I don’t want what happened to me to happen to someone else. It seems like such an absurd death,” Ojeda said, breaking down in tears.

So far there has been minimal progress in the absence of a law that establishes obligations for rental platforms and owners, according to the family’s lawyer, Cecilia Rodriguez.

The online rental providers “should also be required to have offices in Mexico, so that they take responsibility for any contingency,” she said.

Opposition lawmaker Frida Guillen hopes that the capital’s legislature will vote on proposals this month inspired by a law in the central state of Guanajuato, another popular Mexican tourist destination.

“We want owners to meet requirements such as being in a registry of service providers, giving security and civil protection guarantees, having insurance, and that the platforms act as a supportive third party,” she said.

Mexico City is attracting a growing number of tourists and foreigners renting accommodation through online platforms.

Airbnb reported a 30-percent increase in long-term stays in the Mexican capital between the second quarter of 2019 and the same period in 2022.

At the end of October, the company announced a partnership with the Mexico City government to promote the capital as a destination for remote workers.

An influx of digital nomads has increased competition for accommodation, prompting complaints from some locals that they have been evicted by landlords chasing higher rental payments.

Hector Flores fears that he will have to find a new home when his apartment rental  contract expires in August.

The 30-year-old playwright and his roommate, a freelance actor, pay $500 a month to live in downtown Mexico City.

In neighboring buildings, rents on Airbnb cost twice as much.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Flores said.

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