The boom in short-term holiday lets in Scotland has had a significant impact on the economy.
According to industry leader AirBnB, the people who book through its website alone are worth about £1m a day to Scotland.
A lot of people are clearly finding a cheap, easy and pleasant way to visit Edinburgh, Glasgow, scenic Highland glens and other parts of the country, while many Scots have discovered a welcome alternative source of income.
However, the boom has also brought problems, some utterly appalling. In one of the worst examples, a student and her flatmates in Edinburgh were issued with rape alarms and advised to move after the creation of a “party flat” in the same Edinburgh tenement. They said stag parties of up to 40 middle-aged men were turning up “nearly every weekend”. There was “constant noise”, broken glass in the stair and, on one occasion, a man tried to force his way into the flat. A councillor told one of the flatmates that “one girl got raped in a stairwell” of another property. Most issues are thankfully much less terrifying; residents can find it difficult getting hold of the owner of a holiday flat to deal with communal repairs. There are also concerns about empty properties reducing the sense of community in city centres and the failure of some holiday landlords to pay business rates.
AirBnB is now proposing to restrict people to renting out properties in Edinburgh to 90 days a year, outwith peak festival periods.
But it is not the only short-term letting website, so Nicola Sturgeon is right to consider whether councils should be given greater powers to deal with situations that get out of hand.
If nothing else, establishing some new ground rules might help create a level-playing field for everyone involved. At present, councils can act if there are complaints but they can be perhaps understandably slow to respond, given the cuts in local authority spending. The real issue might not be a lack of regulation, but a lack of resources to enforce existing ones.
Most people using AirBnB-style websites simply want to have a nice holiday and Scotland, in particular, should be careful not to do anything to put tourists off. After all, VisitScotland estimates tourism is worth £11bn to the economy.
But exploring ways to ensure neighbours’ lives are not blighted seems a sensible idea.