Associate feature: Holidays at home
After more than a year of pandemic-induced stops and starts, the tourism sector appears to be on the cusp of making a comeback.
Yet with foreign travel likely to remain off the cards for some time to come, holiday rental platform Airbnb believes that can mean only one thing: the domestic sector is going to boom.
“We believe this is going to be the travel rebound of the century; all the signs are there,” says Amanda Cupples, Airbnb general manager for Northern Europe.
“What’s more important is not so much the rebound, but the nature of how people are travelling. One of the things that is becoming increasingly clear is that the lines between how we live, how we work and how we travel are blurring.
“People are more flexible in when they travel - we see that in our internal data where the volume of guest reviews that mention flexible working have increased by 520 per cent over the last year.
“People are also travelling to more places and in this country we have the trend of the domestic staycation. What’s interesting is that the percentage of those nights that are rural has jumped - in 2015 it was 23 per cent but it was 48 per cent in 2020. Those are marked changes.”
In Scotland, that presents a significant opportunity. Historically, much of the country’s tourism has been centred around hotspots such as Edinburgh and the Highlands, but Airbnb is working on a campaign supported by VisitScotland and the Scottish Tourism Alliance to draw attention to the lowlands’ attractions too.
The aim, Cupples says, is to ensure that when the rebound does come the entire country can share in it.
“We’re really trying to shine a light on stays and destinations that are overlooked,” she says.
“If you highlight areas that are less well known, you ease the pressure on the hotspots but you also share the benefits of tourism with more communities in Scotland.
“We want to make sure that the whole of Scotland is benefiting and that the recovery is coming in a way that’s sustainable and sets Scotland up for the future.”
That is not to say it will be completely plain sailing. Cupples stresses that Airbnb believes the rebound will be significant, but she warns that the Scottish government’s proposed licensing scheme for short-term lets could prove problematic.
The government published its consultation on the legislation at the end of last year, with draft rules expected to come before parliament later this year.
The aim of the regime is to deal with problems experienced in hotspots like Edinburgh and getting the right balance between the needs of local communities, and wider economic and tourism interests.
Yet while Airbnb, which is already familiar with regulatory regimes elsewhere in the world, is supportive of regulation per se, Cupples says in their original format the Scottish proposals did not appear equitable.
“Airbnb is very supportive of regulation, which is not a new concept for us, and we’ve been working very regularly with the Scottish government the whole way through the various iterations of this regulatory proposal,” she says.
CASE STUDY - ANITA MYATT
Anita Myatt has let out a self-catering property on the Isle of Skye for the past five years and is tentatively awaiting the expected influx of tourists to the area.
As moderator of the Facebook page for local Hosts on Airbnb, she says not everyone is so optimistic, with the government’s proposed licensing regime for short-term lets leading to unease about their ability to continue in business.
“Everyone is bewildered and a few Hosts have packed up now, especially those with a room to rent,” she says.
“Because of the cost [of the proposed licensing scheme] it’s not viable and the whole pandemic issue is a bit of a nightmare, especially if you’re sharing your house with someone. For some people it was their main source of income and unfortunately they can’t host.”
Although there were 947 published responses to the government consultation on the licensing scheme, Myatt says the feeling among the Hosts on Skye is that their views will not have been taken into account when the final legislation is published.
“The whole issue started with Edinburgh and unscrupulous landlords booting out long-term tenants for a fast buck, but one shoe does not fit all,” she says.
“Tourism is the biggest form of income on Skye bar none. On the one hand everyone wants to encourage tourism, but on the other we’re being shackled with draconian legislation.”
“Our ask is for clear, proportionate rules that back Scotland’s hospitality entrepreneurs, but the [initial] proposals were among the strictest in the world. Part of our issue was how complex they were - Hosts need to meet 16 mandatory requirements and local authorities can choose to add more.
“It was also pretty costly - the figure was something like £2,500 a year to comply with licensing and planning costs. To put that in context, the average earnings for a UK-based Host on Airbnb are around the £1,000 mark. It was not proportionate or cost effective and it was not solving the issues raised by the government.”
The legislation, in whatever form it eventually takes, will regulate all short-term lets, not just those advertised on Airbnb’s site.
Yet it is Airbnb that tends to bear the brunt of the ill-feeling often levelled at a sector sometimes seen to benefit a select few at the expense of the wider community.
It is something Airbnb is acutely aware of, especially in Edinburgh, which is why earlier this year it established an Edinburgh Community Fund. With plans for a local tourist tax put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cupples says it is the company’s way of helping the city as a whole benefit from tourism’s recovery.
“For every stay in Edinburgh in August we’ll put £5 into a community fund and a group of community leaders will decide where the money is going to go. It will go back into very local causes and organisations,” she says.
“When tourism does come back it’ll be a great economic engine and a lifeline, but with it comes other pressures. We are on the record as supporting a tourist tax in Edinburgh and we were trying to come up with ways of playing our part to make sure the return is a positive and sustainable one.”
This article was sponsored by Airbnb