New Airbnb rules 'may hinder' tourism economy on Scotland's Western Isles

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Tourism bosses have warned that steps to regulate short-term lets could hit traditional tourism on the Western Isles.

The suggestion comes after the Scottish Government announced earlier this month that local authorities would be given powers to implement a licensing scheme for short-term lets - such as Airbnb rentals - from spring 2021.

Stornoway Harbour. Picture: TSPL

Stornoway Harbour. Picture: TSPL

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The new licensing scheme will include a mandatory safety requirement and give councils the discretion to apply further conditions to ‘address the concerns of local residents’.

But Rob McKinnon, chief executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism, warned the measures may not protect established tourism - or address shortages of affordable homes on the islands.

Mr McKinnon said: “Use of shared economy channels like Airbnb has been growing, both on an ad-hoc basis and as an alternative to traditional sales channels, which can undermine the established tourism sector.

“We also recognise the shortage of affordable homes across the islands, but aren’t convinced that a licensing scheme for short-term lets is the solution to either problem, and may well hinder one of the strongest parts of the island economy.

“A good example of the difficulties will be determining which properties receive a licence, if there is to be an overall limit on licences within a community.”

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But Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan backed the announcement of the measures, highlighted the findings of a recent Scottish Government study that the Western Isles had 'the second greatest increase in registered properties behind only Edinburgh'.

In a question in the Scottish Parliament last week, Mr Allan raised the problem of regional discrepancies in the issues associated with short-term lets and said that further regulation was needed for parts of the Western Isles.

Mr Allan said: “It is important that we strike a balance between the economic benefits of tourism to Scotland and the impact on local communities.

“In parts of the Western Isles short-term lets are having an impact on the local housing market and restricting the number of properties available for those looking for a home to live in.

“The proposals announced by the Scottish Government will give Comhairle nan Eilean Siar new powers to control the number of short-term lets in the local community and ensure they make a fair contribution to the services they use. I would urge the Comhairle to make use of these powers.

“We are already approaching the situation in some parts of the islands where whole villages could be full in the summer and virtually empty for six months of the year. We need to ensure that villages are not transformed from communities into resorts in the space of just a few years.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar was approached for a comment. A spokesperson said the authority “hadn’t had a chance to consider” the detail, but that a report would be going to the Comhairle’s April round of committee meetings.