Surge in Airbnb bookings

Rooms available to book on Airbnb have rocketed in number in major UK cities, leading to fears of “hollowed out communities” as tourists flock in.

Just over 12,000 are listed in Edinburgh, but the effect is greater than in London as this accounts for a much bigger proportion of the city’s property and population.

Edinburgh’s 12,000 listings work out to around one Airbnb listing for every 42 residents, while London’s Airbnb market equates to one listing per 112 residents.

Much of this accommodation is centred around Edinburgh’s Old Town – a huge draw for tourists especially during the annual Fringe festival. Airbnb said its activities had boosted the Scottish economy by £1.5m a day, and the UK economy as a whole by £3.5bn last year.

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Data analysed by the BBC suggests that listings in Edinburgh doubled in three years, and shows a fourfold increase in spaces in London since 2015.

City of Edinburgh Council has called for licensing and London councils want a registration scheme for hosts.

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Airbnb said it led the way on “clear and proportionate” rules.

“Airbnb is the only platform that voluntarily works with UK cities to help hosts share their homes, follow the rules and pay tax. Other platforms and providers need to step up and follow our lead,” the company said.

“[The platform] allows local families and businesses to benefit from visitors to their communities.”

How many properties are listed?

Nearly 80,000 rooms or homes in London are listed on Airbnb – more than any other UK city, according to figures from housing advocacy site Inside Airbnb analysed by the BBC.

Chart showing how Airbnb listings have grown fourfold in London since 2015 and doubled in Edinburgh since 2016.
Map showing the Edinburgh areas with most Airbnb listings

One result has been concern among locals and politicians of a squeeze on housing for residents, the behaviour of some visitors in residential blocks, and differing tax treatment for traditional hotels and guesthouses.

Examples of anti-social behaviour in “party flats” have been highlighted by campaigners for greater regulation.

They included loud, late-night noise affecting one young woman’s exam preparation, and an amorous couple bursting into the home of a resident aged in her 80s before realising they had the wrong flat.

Councils say it is expensive and time-consuming to tackle such problems with their existing powers. They can only do so after complaints, rather than proactively.

“Short term lets are having a terrible impact. They are hollowing out communities, both in the city centre and increasingly across Edinburgh. Residents are putting up with high levels of anti-social behaviour and, very worryingly for us, we believe there is a huge impact on housing supply,” said Councillor Kate Campbell (SNP), housing convenor at City of Edinburgh Council.

“Housing in Edinburgh is under enormous pressure and we need to take every action we can to protect supply and keep homes affordable for residents, as well as protecting communities.”

The Scottish government has been asked to consider a licensing scheme – allowing for checks, safety requirements, and the potential for a cap on numbers. Housing Minister Kevin Stewart (SNP) said it was considering what measures could be required, which would be put to consultation “to ensure we get the balance of short-term lets right in Scotland”. He said there would be a further announcement within a week.

Airbnb said it took action when alerted to rare cases of bad behaviour, pointed out that hosts are subject to income and council taxes, and said it welcomed regulation.

However, it also argued that its growth had little effect on the availability of homes for locals to buy or rent, highlighting various studies which had shown that house building had not kept up with demand, and had pushed up prices as a result.

It said entire home listings on Airbnb represented less than 0.6% of the available housing stock in Scotland, and some listings on its site were bed and breakfasts, or small hotels, rather than residential property.

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