Scottish islanders launch rival Airbnb in fight against second home crisis | Scotland

Rhoda Meek knows the power of the Scottish Isles to work together. During the first lockdown, she set up a website for more than 360 businesses from Arran to Ulva to sell their wares while the pandemic barred visitors.

Now she and her neighbors have launched a vacation rental website that aims to take Airbnb and ensure that more of the islands’ tourism income stays local.

“I was increasingly aware of the challenge posed by the lack of affordable housing for islanders and the proliferation of short-term rentals, and the difficult balance between the need for tourism and the damage that can be done,” Meek explains. .

IsleHoliday.com aims to ensure that a greater portion of the income generated by tourism in the islands remains local, with the profits of the commission-based structure to be reinvested in small businesses, communities and housing projects.

East of Tiree, an island in the Inner Hebrides where Meek lives, she estimates that 40% of the houses are empty during the winter: “It’s just not viable to keep communities in firefighters and caregivers . We have to start somewhere.

But she is also pragmatic: “It will take time to change this situation and involve actions at local and national level. But, in the meantime, the rental market exists.

“People have invested money in houses and cannot afford to rent them out for the long term. And with short term rentals, the money leaves the islands and often leaves the UK. Our goal is to use the current market to generate income that can be used to benefit our communities, particularly with respect to affordable housing and long term rental options for residents.

Meek admits she was nervous about launching the idea, given how controversial the topic has become, but says the idea has so far “struck a chord” with islanders.

She also sought advice from housing groups across the islands and younger residents, “to make sure we don’t work against the grain.” In South Uist last month, for example, a house was only for sale to islanders or first-time buyers following an increase in second homes, as remote working during the pandemic has makes islands an option for city dwellers who can afford to pay. Following.

Yvonne Murray, originally from Lewis but now working in Worcestershire, wants to register after buying a small cottage on Harris earlier this year.

“I could see real estate prices on the islands go up and up after the foreclosure, and as a first-time buyer I didn’t want to miss the boat,” she explains. “As a young person I want to live and work on the islands, but until there is enough internet connectivity, it just isn’t possible.”

She currently uses Airbnb to rent out both her new property and her father’s house on Lewis – he moves in a trailer behind the garage in the high summer season to supplement his board.

The new platform will be “totally invaluable,” Murray believes. “The commission goes back to the community and I’m behind any upstart young business challenging the big guys.”

Last year, a Guardian analysis showed that Airbnb has become so prevalent in Britain that parts of the country now have an ad for four properties, fueling concern that the rapid expansion of short-term rentals will be uncontrollable and depriving the resident premises of much-needed homes.

Identifying hot spots in rural areas and inner city neighborhoods in England, Scotland and Wales, the analysis found that the highest incidence of Airbnbs was in the Old Town of Edinburgh, where there were 29 active listings for 100 properties, while North West Skye had the second highest concentration, with 25 listings for 100 properties. At the time, Airbnb replied that the conclusions were based on “unreliable scratched data and flawed methodology.”

Responding to what many in the Highlands and Islands see as a crisis, the Scottish government last month passed legislation requiring all local authorities to establish a short-term rental license scheme by October 2022, after as residents across Scotland have expressed serious concerns about the impact of short-term rentals, including noise, anti-social behavior and the impact on housing supply.

And in July, Holyrood’s government pledged £ 43million to build affordable housing on the West Isles amid fears of declining populations.

While isleHoliday is a direct response to this, Meek also hopes that by encouraging island hosts, the new platform will change the dynamic between locals and tourists.

This aspiration comes after a series of hot spots in recent years: reckless motorhome traffic blocking and congesting narrow rural roads, an influx of visitors who weren’t always aware of local Covid concerns after the closures, and more recently angry islanders complained about tourists taking up space on already overcrowded ferry services.

“This allows us to start a dialogue with the people coming to the islands, to send them information about the places of passage, the telephone signal, the local charities before arrival”, explains Meek. This should make people think a little differently about the visit: yes, these are beautiful places, but they are also living and breathing communities. “

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