SNP criticise Airbnb for advertising Scottish holiday lets during pandemic

An SNP MP has criticised Airbnb for continuing to advertise holiday lets for the Easter weekend in a remote corner of Scotland, despite strict guidelines banning unnecessary travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brendan O’Hara, who represents the vast Argyll and Bute constituency, urged the company to stop people from being able to make bookings while UK-wide measures to tackle the pandemic are still in place.

The MP said local communities were already worried about the impact on public health as the Easter holidays approach.

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The Scottish Government last month ordered campsites and caravan parks across the country to close, while ferry services to island communities have been reduced to essential travel only in a bid to discourage visitors.

Ferry sailings have been reduced in a bid to discourage visitors to island communities

Mr O’Hara welcomed hotels and letting companies that put “people’s health before profits” by closing their doors despite the financial hit, but warned that with some bookings still taking place the impact on the community could be significant.

The Airbnb website still allows for bookings, including 19 on Loch Lomondside alone.

A company spokesman said that calendars for private or shared rooms had been blocked on its website for the emergency period.

Mr O’Hara said: “We are in unprecedented and challenging times and I commend the hotels and letting companies who have heeded the advice and stopped holiday bookings during this pandemic.

“However, hundreds of people in my constituency and other rural regions have raised serious concerns that tourists are ‘escaping’ the virus by coming to these areas and that Airbnb is continuing to allow holidaymakers to reserve holiday accommodation.

“This is undoubtedly causing serious distress to local communities who are rightly worried about the spread of the virus.

“With the Easter holidays approaching, an increase in population and holidaymakers will put great and avoidable stress on local resources and our NHS.

“I welcome Airbnb’s steps to assist key workers by encouraging those with Airbnb accommodation to offer these up to workers who are on the frontline battling coronavirus. However, I cannot turn a blind eye to its other properties being advertised for holiday purposes.

“I’m very pleased that the Scottish Government has taken action and has banned all but essential ferry travel to our islands and our ferry operators have been doing great work trying to ensure this happens.

“I now urge Airbnb to do the right thing and desist from allowing holiday reservations as we tackle the coronavirus crisis so people’s lives and businesses can return to normal as quickly and safely as possible.”

A spokesman for Airbnb said: “The government has set out clear guidance on the limited conditions under which necessary travel is permitted and we have taken a number of steps to support these measures, including blocking private room bookings and switching off our ‘instant book’ function for whole properties.

“Hosts in the UK are also opening their homes to NHS and other healthcare providers as part of a global initiative that has seen more than 100,000 places to stay made available so far.”

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