Scottish Government must nurture the tourism sector, not regulate and tax it into the ground – Scotsman comment

The experience in New York and other cities should serve as a warning about over-regulation of short-term lets

The problems caused by Airbnb-style accommodation are global in scale. The scourge of raucous ‘party flats’ and the removal of properties from the residential market – to the extent that the most popular cities become hollowed-out ‘doughnuts’ with few people left living in the centre – are serious issues across the world.

This means that the Scottish Government – set to introduce a controversial licensing scheme for short-term lets from October 1 – has had plenty of opportunity to examine the effects of the various approaches taken to mitigate the problems. Today we report on the experience in New York, where there has been a 77 per cent drop in the number of short-term lets listed on Airbnb between May and September 10, five days after new regulations were brought in.

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According to a group of homeowners called Restore Homeowner Autonomy and Rights (Rhoar), the new rules mean “there is no way to come to New York on a budget”. It also points out that many people needed income from letting out a room in order to live in “very expensive” New York.

The new rules are stricter than those being introduced in Scotland. However, the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers said the Scottish Government's regulations could have a damaging, knock-on effect on the wider tourism industry and Scotland’s ability to host major events. A survey by the association found that nearly two-thirds of holiday lets and bed and breakfasts were planning to close because of the scheme.

The change comes on top of proposals to make cruise ships and motorhome travellers in the Outer Hebrides pay a tourist tax; there are also more advanced plans to introduce a similar tax on hotel visits in Edinburgh and other areas.

The motivations behind these plans are good. However, introducing an overly heavy-handed crackdown on a tourism-related problem, while simultaneously trying to milk a sector that has long been a cash cow for the Scottish economy, risks disaster. What Scotland needs is a government with a comprehensive strategy to stimulate the economy, including the all-important tourism sector. If it starts to really struggle, we may all feel the pinch.



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