‘Let’s face it’ – tourism and business leaders have denounced that the Scottish Government’s plans for licensing short-term lodges and bed and breakfast rentals will be disastrous for the economy of the Highlands

Guest room sign

Tourism and business leaders warn of ‘catastrophic’ consequences for the Highland economy if the Scottish government imposes licenses on short-term rented accommodation.

One said the move came at the worst possible time for the bed and breakfast industry, with many owners already “on the brink” due to the pandemic.

Others claimed the proposed new legislation was a reaction to the loss of building stock in Edinburgh and would be disastrous for the rural Highlands.

Last week, four organizations resigned from the short-term stakeholder task force advising ministers of Holyrood, calling it a “sham” and accusing the SNP administration of ignoring their representations.

The government feared that an Airbnb-style rental boom could contribute to Scotland’s housing crisis, stoking antisocial behavior in residential areas and compromising health and safety.

The Association of Scottish Self-Caterers (ASSC), which left the group with the Scottish B&B Association, Airbnb and the UK Short Term Accommodation Association, says there is no evidence of this.

Airbnb has around 32,000 listings in Scotland. In this context, the ASSC says that many are duplicated six or seven times. Many others, from tree houses and tractors to caravans and pods, are clearly unsuitable for the housing stock.

They fear the ‘one-size-fits-all’ legislation will cost operators £ 1,000 every three years.

The ASCS understands that every property, including existing traditional guesthouses and stand-alone establishments, would also need to obtain and renew planning consent every three years.

First proposed in January 2020, the Scottish government abandoned legislation planned for February this year.

Tourism and business executives say the re-launched proposals are worse.

Almost a quarter of all Scotland’s independent units, over 4,000, are in the Highlands. A ASSC survey of members suggested that nearly half of these premises could close under license.

Les Robinson, the Highlands Regional Manager for ASSC, runs Gael Holidays, a marketing and booking agency serving around 120 independent clients in Inverness and beyond.

He said, “We see continued comments that the stand-alone restaurant industry is unregulated, but that’s not true. We have just as many perfectly reasonable hoops to go through when it comes to safety.

The Robinsons.
The Robinsons.

“Licensing is just not sustainable. In the rural Highlands, for those who rent out properties, this is often not their main source of income, but it helps support them.

“These costs could well put them on the brink. The closures would also have an impact on the people employed for changes, cleaning and security checks.

“It could be catastrophic for the rural Highland economy in general.”

Jo de Sylva.
Jo de Sylva.

Jo de Sylva, President of Visit Inverness Loch Ness, said: “It’s a pretty tough landscape right now for local businesses without adding another layer of bureaucracy.

“A lot of businesses are on the brink. They simply cannot afford the cost, time and paperwork required. “

David Richardson, Highlands and Islands Development Officer for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “FSB Scotland thinks this is the wrong legislation at the wrong time.

“This is driven by the circumstances in a few hot spots like Edinburgh’s Old Town, but a huge one-size-fits-all net is now being cast across Scotland regardless of local conditions.

“The Scottish government is using a huge hammer to crack a nut. “

David Richardson.
David Richardson.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘The Scottish Government views the regulation of short term rentals as vital in balancing the needs and concerns of residents and communities with broader economic and tourism interests.

“We have made it clear since January 2020 that the regulation of short-term rentals will include a licensing regime.

“The working group has always focused on refining and implementing this plan. “

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