Short-term lets - impact on communities: research

Research to assess the impact, positive and negative, of short-term lets (STLs) in Scotland, with a focus on communities, particularly on neighbourhoods and housing.

3. The incidence of short-term lets in Scotland

As explained in Chapter 2, the secondary data analysis in this section relates to Airbnb listings only. Airbnb does not constitute the entire short-term lets (STLs) market, since some landlords do not use this platform, yet the total volume of listings suggests that it accounts for a significant proportion of short-term let stock currently available in Scotland. The data used in this section was sourced from, based on listings online as of May 2019, and provided to the research team by Inside Airbnb, and then cleaned and filtered. Full details are provided in Appendix 1. Unless otherwise stated all figures below come from data provided by Inside Airbnb. Publicly available data published by Airbnb, where available, have been used to corroborate the figures presented here.

The national picture

The secondary data analysis conducted as part of this research demonstrated that there were just under 32,000 active Airbnb listings in Scotland as of May 2019 (Inside Airbnb data). By way of comparison, this figure is close to the total of 31,000 active listings for Scotland reported by Airbnb in their UK Insights Report from 2018[13]. Just over half of all active Airbnb listing in Scotland were in the City of Edinburgh or Highland Council areas. For the purposes of this research, 'active listings' are considered to be those where the host has updated their availability calendar in the past six months. Further details on the methodology can be found in Appendix 1.

Based on Inside Airbnb data, and as of May 2019, across Scotland as a whole:

  • there were 31,884 active Airbnb listings
  • from which 69.2% were entire properties, 30.3% were private rooms and 0.5% were shared rooms.

In 2018, according to Airbnb's report, Scotland's listings generated 1.60 million visitors, for an average of 52 people per listing. Therefore, for a figure of just under 32,000 Airbnb listings in Scotland in, 2019, this would equate to approximately 1.66 million visitors per year in this part of the STLs sector.

Continued growth

In addition to data from May 2019, Scotland's Airbnb listings data for April 2016 were also provided by Inside Airbnb and compared to data released by Airbnb in 2017[14]. This showed:

  • In April 2016, there were just under 10,500 Airbnb listings in Scotland.
  • By July 2017, according to Airbnb, there were 21,900.
  • As of May 2019, there were almost 32,000.

This three-fold increase in Scotland since 2016 is consistent with growth in the sector, although over the past 12 months the rate of growth appears to have slowed.

From data reported in an Airbnb position paper, as part of the evidence provided to the Scottish Government's Collaborative Economy Expert Panel in 2017[15], similar growth rates were observed. For example, according to the Airbnb paper, in July 2014 Edinburgh had 1,900 Airbnb listings and three years later in July 2017 this figure had risen to 9,000.

The extent to which this growth represents additional dwellings in the STLs sector, across Scotland as a whole, cannot be discerned from secondary data alone, but it appears that Airbnb is one of the main routes to market for those wishing to let their property in this way. The qualitative research elsewhere in this research (Chapter 4) indicates that the scale of change is not simply a case of 'digital switch', where existing STLs are now being advertised on a different platform. The growth in numbers over the past five years would appear to represent substantial additional growth in the sector as a whole.

Geographic variation

Rapid growth is a feature of the STLs market, evidenced by the proliferation of Airbnb listings in Scotland. Another key feature is geographic concentration, as shown in Table 1 below. City of Edinburgh and Highland accounted for 50.5% of all Airbnb listings in Scotland and the top seven local authority areas accounted for 75% of all listings. At the opposite end of the scale, five local authority areas had fewer than 100 Airbnbs.

Table 1: Active Airbnb listings by local authority area, May 2019

Local authority area Entire home/apt Private room Shared room Total (May 2019) % of Total
City of Edinburgh 6,622 3,314 58 9,994 31.38
Highland 3,959 2,086 43 6,088 19.12
Glasgow City 1,537 788 7 2,332 7.32
Argyll and Bute 1,468 450 14 1,932 6.07
Fife 1,005 295 2 1,302 4.09
Perth and Kinross 968 249 4 1,221 3.83
Dumfries and Galloway 914 179 2 1,095 3.44
Stirling 591 261 4 856 2.69
Aberdeenshire 613 216 0 829 2.60
Scottish Borders 570 173 2 745 2.34
Moray 443 188 3 634 1.99
Aberdeen City 399 217 7 623 1.96
East Lothian 397 117 0 514 1.61
Na h-Eileanan Siar 397 113 3 513 1.61
South Ayrshire 321 87 0 408 1.28
Angus 246 84 0 330 1.04
North Ayrshire 247 80 0 327 1.03
Orkney Islands 198 98 0 296 0.93
Dundee City 143 104 5 252 0.79
Shetland Islands 163 62 0 225 0.71
South Lanarkshire 140 68 1 209 0.66
Renfrewshire 101 59 0 160 0.50
West Lothian 89 65 0 154 0.48
North Lanarkshire 103 50 0 153 0.48
Midlothian 65 71 0 136 0.43
West Dunbartonshire 79 49 0 128 0.40
Falkirk 71 42 0 113 0.35
East Ayrshire 53 24 0 77 0.24
Inverclyde 54 23 0 77 0.24
Clackmannanshire 50 17 0 67 0.21
East Dunbartonshire 35 23 0 58 0.18
East Renfrewshire 22 14 0 36 0.11
Scotland 22,063 9,666 155 31,884 100.00

Source: Inside Airbnb, May 2019

Looking at the raw numbers alone is useful in several respects, yet it overlooks a crucial contextual element: how the presence of STLs relates to the total dwelling stock. The latest household estimates published by the Scottish Government (2017)[16] indicated that there are just over 2.6 million dwellings in Scotland, compared to 31,884 active Airbnb listings (Inside Airbnb data May 2019). If each Airbnb listing were in a separate dwelling, then this would represent a penetration rate of 1.2% - i.e. one could infer that STLs were available in 1.2% of all Scottish dwellings. For entire properties the figure was 0.9%, yet owing to the highly uneven distribution of Airbnbs across Scotland, this is a case where the average figure is not a particularly useful representation of the situation in most areas. For this reason, it is more helpful to look locally at the distribution of Airbnbs, as discussed below.

The local picture

Previous academic work by Rae (2018)[17] highlighted the extent to which the growth of STLs and Airbnb, in particular, is a highly localised phenomenon. Even at the scale of individual local authority areas, such as the City of Edinburgh, some neighbourhoods have very few STLs. Yet a small group of ultra-desirable localities are part of a newly globalised market for STLs in which the barriers to entry for hosts and visitors have been lowered by the arrival of multi-lingual platforms such as Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and others. These so-called 'globalhoods' are at the epicentre of the short-term rental boom world-wide and in Scotland one can also see evidence of this (Rae 2018).

When the distribution of Airbnb listings across Scotland is examined at a national level, Edinburgh and Highland clearly stood out. However, if the analysis moves down to a more local scale, it is clear that these kinds of STLs were concentrated in a relatively small number of locations within individual local authority areas. As of May 2019, just over half (51%) of all Airbnb listings in Scotland were located in one of 24 wards (out of 354). Edinburgh was home to 10 of these wards, followed by Highland (7), Argyll and Bute, and Fife (both 2), Glasgow, Perth and Kinross, and Stirling (all 1 ward).

The City Centre ward in Edinburgh had 2,710 active Airbnb listings, or 8.5% of the Scottish total (Inside Airbnb data May 2019). This was followed by Leith Walk with 1,449 (4.6%) and Skye with 1,083 (3.4%). The seven most popular wards, all in the City of Edinburgh, or Highland, accounted for a quarter of Scotland's active Airbnb listings in May 2019.

Edinburgh's City Centre ward had more Airbnb listings than the whole of Glasgow and more than every other local authority area apart from Highland. This is presented in Table 2 below, which shows that the vast majority of listings in some locations were for entire properties (e.g. 79% in City Centre ward in Edinburgh, 89% in East Neuk and Landward ward in Fife). These figures were notably lower in Highland wards, at 61% in Skye and 58% in Wester Ross, Strathpeffer & Lochalsh. Table 2 also includes an estimated 'penetration rate' comparing the amount of Airbnb listings compared to dwellings (both all listings and entire property Airbnb), explained in more detail in the footnote below.

Table 2: Type of Active Airbnb listing by ward, May 2019[18]

            Penetration rates  
Ward Entire home Private room Shared room Total % of Total All listings Entire homes Dwellings (2017)
City Centre (City of Edinburgh) 2,142 531 37 2,710 8.51 16.17 12.78 16,759
Leith Walk (City of Edinburgh) 996 449 4 1,449 4.55 7.46 5.13 19,433
Skye (Highland) 663 412 8 1,083 3.40 18.63 11.41 5,813
Southside/Newington (City of Edinburgh) 515 326 1 842 2.64 5.19 3.17 16,231
Inverleith (City of Edinburgh) 526 238 0 764 2.40 4.42 3.05 17,274
Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh (Highland) 421 303 1 725 2.28 10.73 6.23 6,756
Morningside (City of Edinburgh) 424 244 0 668 2.10 4.63 2.94 14,432
Leith (City of Edinburgh) 420 224 1 645 2.03 5.02 3.27 12,856
Anderston/City/Yorkhill (Glasgow City) 486 141 0 627 1.97 3.23 2.51 19,401
Fort William and Ardnamurchan (Highland) 408 203 7 618 1.94 9.74 6.43 6,344
Craigentinny/Duddingston (City of Edinburgh) 373 197 1 571 1.79 3.64 2.38 15,682
Badenoch and Strathspey (Highland) 451 100 0 551 1.73 7.56 6.19 7,290
Aird and Loch Ness (Highland) 350 192 0 542 1.70 9.87 6.37 5,493
Sighthill/Gorgie (City of Edinburgh) 331 169 5 505 1.59 2.94 1.93 17,189
Highland (Perth and Kinross) 351 91 4 446 1.40 8.46 6.66 5,270
Oban North and Lorn (Argyll and Bute) 332 108 1 441 1.38 8.53 6.42 5,171
Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart (City of Edinburgh) 285 142 2 429 1.35 3.52 2.34 12,202
Caol and Mallaig (Highland) 244 172 9 425 1.33 10.70 6.14 3,971
East Neuk and Landward (Fife) 375 47 0 422 1.33 5.66 5.03 7,450
Trossachs and Teith (Stirling) 308 100 2 410 1.29 7.32 5.50 5,603
Oban South and the Isles (Argyll and Bute) 263 116 12 391 1.23 6.63 4.46 5,894
Forth (City of Edinburgh) 155 173 1 329 1.03 2.17 1.02 15,142
Inverness Central (Highland) 212 101 1 314 0.99 4.62 3.12 6,798
St Andrews (Fife) 254 41 2 297 0.93 3.98 3.40 7,471

Source for Airbnb listings data: Inside Airbnb May 2019

When the total volume of Airbnb listings was considered, Edinburgh's City Centre ward was something of an outlier, since it had more than double the total number of entire property listings compared to any other ward in Scotland. The penetration rate, expressed in relation to the total number of dwellings in each area, demonstrates a different picture.

In Skye (Eilean a' Chèo ward) there were 5,813 dwellings and 1,083 Airbnb listings. This gives a penetration rate of 18.6% for all listings and 11.4% for entire property listings. In Edinburgh's City Centre Ward, the overall penetration rate was 16.2% and 12.8% for entire properties. Wester Ross, Strathpeffer & Lochalsh and Caol & Mallaig were the two other Scottish wards with penetration rates above 10% (i.e. areas where one in ten dwellings provide short-term letting through Airbnb). In Glasgow's Anderston/City/Yorkhill ward, the overall penetration rate was 3.2% for all listings, and 2.5% for entire properties.

Even within wards, however, there is geographic clustering and it is important to remember that wards vary considerably in size. For example, the whole Isle of Skye, plus Raasay, is a single ward (Eilean a' Cheo), covering nearly 1,800 square kilometres, and has a population of around 10,500[19]. At the other end of the scale are areas like the City Centre ward in Edinburgh, which covers about five square kilometres and has a population of around 32,000 (as of 2018[20]). The characteristics of these areas also vary considerably, so in the next section the distribution of Airbnb listings is explored with respect to the socio-economic context of individual areas, based on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) 2016.

Airbnb areas – by deprivation level

Across Scotland as a whole, there were proportionally more Airbnb listings in less deprived areas, particularly those in the middle of the SIMD 2016 rankings[21]. There were more Airbnb listings (11.9% of the Scottish total) in the least deprived decile than there were in the three most deprived deciles in total (10.3%). The single biggest clustering of Airbnb listings was found in decile 6 areas, which are typically neither very deprived nor particularly affluent (e.g. Fountainbridge in Edinburgh, Garnethill in Glasgow). These areas accounted for 19.4% of all Scottish Airbnb listings, as shown in Figure 1.

More information on the location of Airbnb listings by deprivation decile is provided in Appendix 1.

Figure 1: Scottish Airbnb listings (%) by SIMD decile (where decile 1 is most deprived)

Figure 1: Scottish Airbnb listings (%) by SIMD decile (where decile 1 is most deprived)

Source: Inside Airbnb, May 2019, Scottish Government for SIMD 2016

STLs hosts

Qualitative research elsewhere in the report focuses on the views of STLs hosts, so it is useful to provide some commentary and brief analysis on what a 'host' is in the context of STLs. This was done using the dataset provided by Inside Airbnb because each individual listing contains the web address of the host's profile on Airbnb, which can then be followed up on (manual checking was conducted on 400 of these: see Appendix 1 for more details).

Many different categories of STLs host emerged from the analysis:

  • individual hosts who rent out single rooms in conventional 'sharing economy' fashion.
  • couples, or families who rent out their entire home.
  • established self-catering holiday firms who use Airbnb as a route to market for their holiday home portfolio.
  • hosts who specialise in Festival lets in Edinburgh.
  • specialist Airbnb management companies who manage STL holiday lets on behalf of individual clients.
  • a small number of hosts who rent out multiple rooms in single houses within individual cities, such as Edinburgh and Inverness.
  • several hosts are based outside Scotland within the UK, or overseas (including 340 in London, 95 in the United States and 9 in China), but the vast majority appear to be located in Scotland. Overall, 7% of the all listings had hosts who were listed as living outside Scotland, with the majority of these listings being owned by hosts living in England, the United States and France.

In short, a diversity of different hosting situations exist across Scotland. Based on the analysis conducted here, it appears that the majority of Airbnbs in Scotland were operated by hosts who had more than one active Airbnb listing. An important qualifier to this is that where a single host advertises hundreds of properties (there were four hosts operating in Scotland, with more than 100 listings) the individual properties may be owned by individuals, but they have an agent involved in their marketing and management.

Number of listings per host

In order to shed more light on the topic of how many properties each host advertised, all 31,884 active Airbnb listings for Scotland were cross-referenced with the number of individual hosts in the Inside Airbnb dataset. This analysis showed that there were 18,902 Airbnb hosts in Scotland in May 2019. There are two different ways of looking at this:

  • The first is that hosts with one listing (of which there were 14,373) accounted for 45.1% of all Airbnbs in Scotland (Table 3).
  • The second is that 76% of all hosts had only one listing (i.e. 14,373 out of 18,902 hosts had one Airbnb).

A very small proportion of hosts (0.3%) owned, or acted as agents for a much larger proportion of total listings (13%), with larger STLs portfolios ranging from 16 to over 100 properties. Four hosts with portfolios of more than 100 properties accounted for nearly 2,500 listings, approximately 8% of all listings.

Table 3: Analysis of hosts by number of Airbnb listings, May 2019

Number of listings per host Total listings % of listings by individual host Number of hosts % of hosts
1 14,373 45.1 14,373 76.0
2 5,220 16.4 2,610 13.8
3 to 5 5,295 16.6 1,507 8.0
6 to 15 2,828 8.9 350 1.9
16 to 25 619 1.9 32 0.2
26 to 35 378 1.2 13 0.1
36 to 45 315 1.0 8 0.0
46 to 100 360 1.1 5 0.0
More than 100 2,496 7.8 4 0.0
Total 31,884 100.0 18,902 100.0

Source: Inside Airbnb, May 2019

Key findings – Chapter 3

The figures presented above correspond closely with published data on Airbnb's presence in Scotland, and in individual locations across the country. There are several other STLs platforms, but Airbnb is so widespread that an analysis of their presence provides useful insights into the sector as a whole. Based on this analysis and as of May 2019, seven key points are worth highlighting.

1. STLs are geographically concentrated with localised intensity. Two local authority areas (City of Edinburgh and Highland) accounted for more than half of all active Airbnb listings in Scotland. Three-quarters of all listings were found in seven of Scotland's 32 local authority areas. A total of 24 wards in Scotland (out of 354) accounted for more than half of all active Airbnb listings. City Centre ward in Edinburgh was home to 8.5% of all Scottish Airbnb listings.

2. About 1% of all dwellings in Scotland are STLs. Based on the secondary data analysis conducted here, it appears that STLs were present in around 1.2% of dwellings in Scotland and 'Entire home/apartment' equated to about 0.9% (22,000) of all dwellings in Scotland.

3. The majority of STLs are entire properties. Across Scotland as a whole, 69% of all listings were for entire properties. It is not possible to tell from the data whether whole property listings are occasionally shared, or permanently available on a short-term basis, or whether they are permanently removed from the long-term rental market. Rather, the secondary data analysis indicates the percentage of dwelling stock that STLs had a presence in, with particularly high rates in Edinburgh, Skye and other key Scottish tourist locations.

4. STLs penetration rates above 10%. The overall estimated penetration rate of these kind of STLs was highest in Highland (5.2%) at the Local Authority area level, and Skye (Eilean a' Chèo) at the ward level (18.6%). In four areas in Scotland (one in Edinburgh and three in Highland), the estimated penetration rate was over 10%. In these locations, STLs were present in one in ten dwellings.

5. STLs are concentrated in less deprived areas. There were more Airbnb listings (11.9% of the Scottish total) in the least deprived decile than there were in the three most deprived deciles in total (10.3%).

6. STLs hosts are a mix of the private and professional. Over three quarters of hosts offered one listing (45% of listings). A very small proportion of hosts (0.3%) owned, or acted as agents for a much more significant proportion of total listings (13%), with large STL portfolios ranging from 16 to over 100 properties. This would appear to confirm that platforms are used as a route to market for professional as well as amateur hosts. It is not possible to infer from this data whether these listings are occasionally shared/swapped, or permanently available on a short-term basis without individual investigation, but this is explored in the qualitative research below.

7. In 2018, each of Scotland's Airbnb listing generated on average 52 visitors. Based on figures previously published by Airbnb, it appears that each Airbnb listing in Scotland generated just over 50 visitors per year. For the nation as a whole, this equated to over 1.6 million visitors in 2018. For Edinburgh's City Centre ward (population 32,000) this would equate to about 140,000 visitors per year (about 4.5 times the local resident population) and in Skye (population 10,500) this would equate to around 56,000 annual visitors, or 5.4 times Skye's resident population[22].



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