Short-term lets must be policed

Trade groups call for greater regulation of AirBnB-style rentals

AirBnB is growing, particularly in Edinburgh.
AirBnB is growing, particularly in Edinburgh.

By Jack Walsh

TRADE groups are calling for short-term rental properties let via sites such as AirBnB to be bound by the same regulations as the rest of the accommodation sector to address what they say is “unfair competition”.

A report commissioned by Scottish Enterprise in partnership with the Scottish Government and Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) revealed that the tourism sector has been particularly affected by the development of the so-called ‘collaborative economy’, which has “accelerated the digitalisation of the travel and tourism industry” and allowed individuals to compete in the same market as established operators.

Peer-to-peer accommodation platforms are said to have experienced significant growth in Scotland. An AirBnB UK Insight Report revealed growth of 104% in inbound guests from July 2016 to July 2017 in Scotland; and as of July 2017, there were 21,900 AirBnB hosts throughout the country – with 9000 (41%) of those located in Edinburgh.

But trade groups say new accommodation platforms must comply with the same rules as the rest of the sector.

Willie Macleod, executive director for Scotland at the British Hospitality Association (BHA), said that while new accommodation options for guests are to be generally welcomed, peer-to-peer accommodation must be regulated.

He said: “All the sort of traditional forms of visitor accommodation – self-catering, B&B, guest houses, hostels, hotels – co-exist and compete; we’re, generally speaking, visible to the regulatory authorities and we’re compliant. I think our concern is that peer-to-peer or sharing accommodation has the potential to be less visible and therefore less compliant with the regulatory regime.”

Macleod said there must be a “level, competitive playing field and that the regulatory regimes that need to be complied with for different types and sizes of businesses are actually complied with”.

Tristan Nesbitt, Edinburgh Hotels Association chairman, said the group “welcomes the emergence of short-term letting platforms… however, we also support recent calls for the sector to be regulated and taxed accordingly to ensure such platforms comply with local rental laws”.

Similarly, Marc Crothall of the STA said it is vital there is a “fair and affordable level of regulation for all”.

David Weston, chair of the Scottish Bed & Breakfast Association, said “the exponential growth of unregulated, unchecked tourist accommodation through sites like AirBnB… has created unfair competition to B&Bs and guest houses, who have to comply with multiple rules and regulations while regulators do not enforce these on AirBnB-type ‘hosts’”.

The Scottish Government is due to report on the findings of an independent panel which looked at the opportunities and challenges of a collaborative economy, including short-term lets, in spring. A spokesman said ministers “understand the calls… for consideration of new controls over short-term letting of residential properties”.