6. Conclusions and area summaries
The following chapter sets out conclusions and area summaries for each of the case study areas.
Aims and objectives of the research
The Scottish Government's overall aim for this research was to assess the impact (positive and/or negative) of STLs in Scotland, with a focus on the communities aspect, in particular neighbourhoods and housing. The following research questions were set by Scottish Government at the beginning of the research:
- Do people perceive an increase in STLs in their local area and in what ways?
- How do STLs and their growth affect communities across Scotland? What, if any, are the differences between the impact of STLs in urban and rural Scotland?
- Who is affected by STLs and in what ways? How does the STLs experience differ for each of the following groups: local residents, people who host STLs, as well as other community actors, such as local businesses?
This research has considered these questions in the context of examining the amount and impacts of STLs in five different types of urban and rural based communities:
- In the urban context – Edinburgh's tourism hotspot of the world heritage site, and in Glasgow's city centre including the central business district and area close to the SEC;
- In the rural context – the East Neuk of Fife's established coastal holiday home area, Fort William with its expanding Highland tourism centred around outdoor activities, and Skye as a long-established tourism hotspot based around its island experience.
The increase in short-term lets
The secondary data analysis showed that STLs have grown over the last three years, with a three-fold increase from 10,500 to just under 32,000 across Scotland between 2016 and 2019. STLs are geographically concentrated; 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). This concentration is further illustrated by penetration rates of Airbnbs relative to amount of dwellings: in Skye 18.6%, Edinburgh's city centre 16.7%, Fort William 9.7%, the East Neuk of Fife 5.6%, Glasgow city 3.23% compared to 1.2% for Scotland overall.
Experiences of the increase in STLs
Based on their experience, most research participants confirmed the growth of STLs, and concentration in some areas, as identified by the secondary data analysis. They associated the growth in STLs with growth in tourism, but with different experiences in the different areas. According to most of the research participants in Edinburgh, Fort William and Skye, growth had been significant with continued demand. In Edinburgh, the Airbnb data showed Old Town and part of the New Town as the most dense one square kilometre of Airbnbs in Scotland. Many participants suggested STLs provided a more convenient and affordable self-catering alternative compared to expensive hotel accommodation in the city, but with intense concentration in some parts of the City Centre and in tenements stairs. In Fort William, STLs were also said to be challenging some traditional visitor accommodation, but in Skye, STLs were providing accommodation where there was very little traditional alternatives for tourists for over-night stays. In both Fort William and Skye, STLs continued to increase the offering of any type of supply – whole properties, rooms, and a range of non-housing forms of STLs (including pods, caravans, tents, etc.) which added to the volume of visitors and congestion for local communities.
In inner-city Glasgow, most research participants' experience of the growth, and concentration of STLs was found to be very different. Here the use of STLs was associated with music and sporting event tourism and to a lesser extent business visitors. Comparing cities, Glasgow did not have as great a concentration of STLs that was found in Edinburgh's city centre. The change in STLs in Glasgow's city centre was associated with the growth of STLs in the traditional tenemental area in the Finnieston area. This was where there were strong parallels with Edinburgh, in terms of residents' often negative experiences of STLs where there was shared common space and stairs/closes.
The experience of growth and concentration was again different in the East Neuk of Fife. This area was found to be quite different to the other four areas, as a traditional holiday home area for indigenous Scottish and other UK visitors. The growth here was mainly associated with the shift in model of self-catering from the traditional one-week to shorter stays. This meant that occupancy could increase in holiday homes, but a key feature of the apparent increase in STLs (when examining Airbnb trends) was that many of the existing holiday homes appeared to have moved to using platforms as a route to market, representing more of a digital marketing shift.
Motivations for offering and using STLs
Financial drivers were the key reasons for offering STLs. Nearly half of all host survey respondents (49%) saw STLs as a good business opportunity, and 11% also indicated that STLs were a better commercial prospect than long-term lets. Ease of entry, and lack of regulation when compared to long-term residential rented housing and traditional visitor accommodation, was also seen as a key incentive to enter this market.
Most visitors that use STLs were tourists, with increasing numbers of international visitors from beyond the traditional European and American visitors. The attraction of STLs were seen as the convenience of whole property accommodation, good locations, and the availability of wider and more flexible options including the ability to have shorter and more affordable stays.
The extent of home sharing
When contemplating the impacts of STLs on neighbourhoods and housing it is critical to understand what type of STLs are actually being offered. The key question here is whether STLs are home shared entire properties with a resident occasionally swapping, home shared private rooms (or shared rooms) with a resident present, or entire property STLs with an absentee landlords.
The secondary data analysis presented in Chapter 3, confirms that the majority of Scottish Airbnb listings were entire properties (69.2%) with most of the balance being private rooms (30.3%), with only 0.4% being shared rooms. Of the five study areas, the community with the highest proportion of entire property lets was not surprisingly in the established holiday home area of the East Neuk of Fife (89%). This was followed by the two city areas of Edinburgh and Glasgow (79% and 78% respectively). The rural areas of Fort William and Skye showed higher proportions of sharing of private rooms (33% and 38% respectively, compared to 30% for Scotland as a whole).
While this does not provide evidence on the extent to which entire properties are being removed from residential markets, the survey results indicated that a notable proportion of the listings from respondents had previously been occupied by an owner-occupier (21%) or had been on a long-term lease in the private rented sector (15%). A higher proportion of hosts also indicated that they let out homes where they do not live in the property (62%), and a smaller proportion stated that they let out a room or their home when they lived there, or were away for short or extended periods (47%). The vast majority of hosts also indicated that they let their property or rooms for more than 90 days (81%).
Most hosts (76%) had only one Airbnb listing, but these listings accounted for less than half (45%) of the total listings in Scotland. A very small proportion of hosts (0.3% of hosts) owned, or acted as agents for a much larger proportion of total listings (13% of listings), with larger STLs portfolios ranging from 16 to over 100 properties. Four hosts with portfolios of more than 100 properties accounted approximately 8% of all listings (nearly 2,500 listings in total).
The qualitative research gave further insights based on the experience of participants. In the established holiday home area of the East Neuk of Fife, the indication from most participants was that the majority of the STLs were secondary lets rather than a room or property being shared. In both Edinburgh and Glasgow city centres, qualitative evidence supported the quantitative evidence on the profile of STLs where most are entire properties, and in Edinburgh City Centre most participants also suggested that the STLs were mainly full-time entire property lets, rather than shared private rooms or shared entire properties. Many participants in Edinburgh referred to their experience of shifts from the residential market to the STLs market, with an emphasis of business STLs in Edinburgh which was greater than found in Glasgow. In the rural areas of Fort William and Skye, again there was evidence provided by participants of properties moving from the residential sector to STLs with opinion of increasing shortages of housing for incoming and key workers in both these areas; again, the qualitative research supported the quantitative evidence that most STLs were entire properties, but also indicated the importance of shared rooms or properties appeared to be greater here than in the cities and in the East Neuk of Fife.
Taking all these quantitative and qualitative findings together, the evidence appeared to suggest a higher prevalence of secondary letting of entire-property STLs rather than sharing rooms or homes. The survey and qualitative evidence also suggested a shift of housing accommodation from the residential sector. From the qualitative interviews, this was mainly identified from the private rented and housing for sale sectors in all areas, but also with some illegal STLs lets in the social and affordable sectors in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Skye.
The impacts of short-term lets on communities
Five key impacts were found:
Local economic benefits
On average, each Airbnb listing generated 52 visitors per year in Scotland (Airbnb 2018). For the nation, as a whole, this equated to over 1.6 million visitors. 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 the Eilean a' Chèo ward (Skye) (population 10,500) this would equate to around 56,000 annual visitors, or around 5.4 times the local resident population. This tied to the key positive impacts of STLs, as identified by most research participants, that tourism supports local economic benefits. These appeared to be greatest in Edinburgh, Fort William and Skye. The benefits were related to increased spend, increased availability of jobs, often all year round, and direct jobs and trade for the STLs supply chain including property managers, cleaners and the property maintenance industry. These benefits were seen to be less significant in East Neuk of Fife due to lower visitor volume, and the direct economic impact of STLs was much less clear in inner-city Glasgow.
Due to the concentrated nature of STLs, the local economic benefits are unlikely to be evenly distributed. The secondary data analysis found that STLs are concentrated in less deprived areas, with more Airbnb listings (11.9% of the Scottish total) in the least deprived SIMD decile than in the three most deprived deciles in total (10.3%).
Increased household income and STLs business earnings
Apart from the prospects of potential jobs and therefore income, the potential for increased household income for STLs hosts was also identified by most research participants. Many participants made distinctions between the type of host income – whether it was 'amateur' host household income, or 'business' income. The distinction of this different type of host was also made in the secondary data analysis which showed that there was a mix of amateur hosts and professional hosts/managing agents using STL platforms. The in-depth interviews with hosts confirmed that there were a range of different types of hosts including amateur home sharers, individual small investors, and STL businesses with varying sizes of portfolios. These differences were also reflected across the different areas as identified by many participants. Edinburgh city centre was clearly associated with small investors and STLs businesses, and the East Neuk of Fife was associated with holiday home owners and small investors/STL businesses. In the other three areas the picture was much more nuanced including a mix of hosts sharing their properties and private rooms, individual small investors letting one or two properties, and businesses running portfolios of properties, sometimes with a mix of short-term and long-term lets.
Reduced availability of residential housing with the negative impact on affordability, sustaining communities and the negative impact on the wider local economy and local public services
There were indications from the survey and recurring themes coming through the qualitative research across all areas, from all types of participants except for some hosts, that properties were moving from long-term private lets and owner-occupation into STLs. This was voiced as a major area of concern in Edinburgh, Fort William and Skye due to the impact this was considered to be having on shortage of housing supply and affordability. In Edinburgh and the East Neuk of Fife the rise in STLs was associated with the fall in resident population and school rolls, with fears about the long term sustainability of the community. A related negative impact in the rural areas of Fort William and Skye was identified as availability of labour supply and on wider local economic development due to housing shortages. Many community and business participants in Fort William and Skye commented on the inability to attract incoming and key workers for key industries and public services due lack of housing.
Negative impact on quality of life and well-being
A key negative impact related to disturbance of residents, quality of life and well-being which was evident in the two cities in particular, but also in some other areas depending on the property type. This related particularly to tenemental, but also other types of high-density properties with shared space and common stairs/closes. Concentrations of entire property STLs let full-time as holiday lets in common stairs often resulted in daily disruption and stress caused by constant 'visitor use', rather than residential use – noise, disturbance, buzzers, door knocking, littering, anti-social behaviour, the loss of a sense of community and security where the majority in both the close, and within the wider local community, were constantly changing strangers. The change of use also brought issues around common repairs and property maintenance although this was refuted by some hosts who considered there was more investment in STLs properties compared to other types of letting or ownership. Concerns around health and safety, and building insurance was particularly acute in these more densely built environments, but were relevant across all types of communities to protect guests, neighbouring residents and hosts.
The social and lifestyle benefits of hosting were identified by many hosts, with the positive impact this had on their general wellbeing, and work-life balance.
Congestion and changing communities
While the increase in tourism was associated with local economic benefits, it was also identified with bringing some disbenefits of congestion, significant demands on the local infrastructure, and changes to communities. For many participants the growth of tourism was seen to be supported by the growth in STLs. The negative congestion effects were identified in Edinburgh, Fort William and Skye where the level of tourism was the greatest amongst the five case study areas. They were also seen to be changing the nature of the communities, with residents more likely than hosts to say 39% of resident survey respondents to the survey stating that there were too many short-term lets in their neighbourhood (compared to 10% of hosts). This was associated with traffic congestion, people congestion, litter, waste, noise, lack of amenities for locals including local shops, and higher demand for and impact on local public services. This view was also associated with perceptions around lack of tax contribution from STLs.
Increasing the vibrancy and investment in local areas was identified by some resident, host and community participants in all areas as a positive impact of STLs, and spreading the benefits of tourism to areas out of the traditional tourist areas was identified by some businesses and hosts participants in Edinburgh.
Different impacts for different people
While STLs are, in many respects, a localised issue it is possible to generalise about the overall impacts on different groups of people. In concluding on the key themes for residents, hosts, community actors and businesses the research has found the following impacts.
Impacts vary considerably for residents with the key positive impacts relating to the opportunities in the local economy. These are more likely to be directly relevant for residents in the rural and remote communities where the range of work opportunities are more limited and/or tourism-related work is more important. However, this positive impact is outweighed for some by the difficulties in securing residential accommodation in all the pressured housing market areas of Edinburgh, the East Neuk of Fife and, in particular, in the rural areas of Fort William, and Skye, where the negative impact of sourcing accommodation for incoming and key workers is proving particularly acute. Residents in the cities also experience the negative impacts of STLs located in high density properties. These include the daily disruption and stress caused by constant 'visitor use', rather than residential use – noise, disturbance, buzzers, door knocking, littering, anti-social behaviour, the loss of a sense of community and security where the majority in both the close, and within the wider local community.
The common and clear positive impacts for hosts is the financial benefits that accrue whether this is from amateur home sharing, small scale investment income, or business income as a professional host. STLs also provide opportunities for flexible working patterns which often suits those that want to supplement their income, and/or combine this with other work, semi-retirement or wider family or other commitments. For the amateur type of host there are also social and lifestyle benefits associated with home sharing.
Impacts for communities vary by area due to the location specific nature of STLs. As discussed above in all the tourism hotspots of Edinburgh, Fort William and Skye, and to a much lesser extent in the East Neuk of Fife there are positive economic impacts associated with tourism. However, the negative impacts of litter, noise, congestion and infrastructure concerns, combined with the lack of available residential housing threaten the sustainability of these communities. These impacts are not as evident in Glasgow although there are litter, noise and congestion concerns. In both cities communities experience the negative impacts of STLs in high density areas. This is associated with the loss of sense of community and security in the wider community as a result of constantly changing visitors.
Impacts on local businesses depend on the type of business and the location. Again in the tourism hotspots, and to a lesser extent in the East Neuk of Fife, broadly speaking those involved in tourism see benefits of increased turnover. In Edinburgh the residential based businesses see negative impacts, and Fort William businesses working in the wider local economy also see disadvantages associated with the shortage of residential accommodation. In Skye, as most business is based around tourism, they see many positive impacts associated with STLs. Finally in Glasgow businesses do not clearly see the direct economic impacts associated with STLs.
There was general agreement (with a few exceptions from hosts) around the need for regulation for STLs to safeguard health and safety of residents and guests. Many participants (except hosts) also suggested using regulation as a means of rebalancing housing supply back towards residential housing. Many of these participants also wanted to see the introduction of registration to enable better management of damage and disturbance caused by STLs, and to ensure business taxes were paid.
The area summaries below bring together the data analysis on Airbnb listings, other published data on population and dwellings, and the survey and qualitative research findings by case study area.
Edinburgh City Centre – Established world heritage site tourism
Edinburgh's World Heritage site had the highest density 1km2 of Airbnb listings in Scotland in May 2019 with:
- A population of 31,634, 16,759 dwellings and 2,710 Airbnbs
- A very high penetration rate of Airbnbs to dwellings of 16% (Scotland 1.2%)
- A higher proportion of entire dwelling Airbnbs at 79% (Scotland 69%), and more than double the total number of entire property listings compared to any other ward in Scotland.
Amount and use - There has been a significant increase in the amount and intensity of STLs with signs of saturation in the Old Town area. The attraction of entire property STLs was seen as convenience for groups and families, well located, a more economic accommodation option than hotels and also allow for shorter-stays than traditional self-catering. Participants suggested that STLs in Edinburgh's city centre were mainly entire homes let full-time, and were not home sharing.
Positive impacts – Positive impacts were seen as the increase in tourism, supported by STLs, and impact on the local economy. Other impacts identified included the increased vibrancy, and stretching tourism out of traditional hotspots including Tollcross and the West End. Participants also identified income for professional business hosts, and a minority of hosts that home share who benefitted from increased household income. However, for many participants in this case study area, the positives derived from increased tourism supported by STLs were outweighed by the negatives, as outlined below.
Negative impacts – In Edinburgh's city centre there was common and strong concern about the impact of reduced residential housing, including shifts from long-term lets and sales to STLs based on the experience of resident, community and business participants. This has included STLs in social and affordable housing. There has been ongoing disturbance for residents, with the negative impact on quality of life and well-being identified generally for the community, but particularly for those living in tenemental properties where concentrations of STLs in stairs have effectively created a change from residential to visitor accommodation. There were negative impacts identified on the sustainability of local communities as the resident population falls, including impact on the falling school roll. Generally, there was outrage from the community participants about the STLs situation and lack of action from authorities.
East Neuk of Fife – Established coastal holiday home area
This coastal area of north east Fife is an established holiday home area with:
- A population of 12,286, 7,450 dwellings and 422 Airbnbs
- A medium penetration rate of Airbnbs to dwellings of 5.6% compared to other case study areas (Scotland 1.2%)
- A very high proportion of entire dwelling Airbnbs at 89% (Scotland 69%) and very low proportion of home sharing of private rooms (11%, Scotland 30%).
Amount and use – There has been some increases of STLs to the supply of existing holiday homes, but the platforms have provided a new route to market to increase occupancy of existing holiday homes, and have extended the areas of STLs out to areas not traditionally known for holiday homes in this area. The attraction of entire property STLs was convenience for groups and families, which has been the predominant demand for visitor accommodation in this area. There has been an increase in tourism for coastal and golf holidays, including from some international visitors. There has been a shift in the self-catering market from traditional one-week to shorter stays which has helped to stretch the tourism season and has increased occupancy in the quieter times.
Positive impacts – Positive impacts were seen as tourism and impact on the local economy, and jobs. There has been an extension of the tourism season with benefits for tourism based industries and the STLs supply chain - cleaners and property trades. There has been an increased offer and vibrancy from local shops. Participants also identified income for professional hosts and holiday home owners, but there was little evidence of home sharing income benefits for individual households due to the small proportion of home sharing in this area, other than increased income for holiday home owners.
Negative impacts – The negative impacts were mainly seen as exacerbating the existing impact of lack of residential homes and impact on housing affordability. Increased congestion was also identified and associated impacts for local residents associated with traffic. There were some concerns about impacts on sustainability of communities, especially where STLs have moved into new areas, with community action to maintain local amenities, shops and public services and concerns for the falling school roll.
Fort William – rural expanding tourism
Fort William is a town in the western Highlands, known as the gateway to Ben Nevis with:
- A population of 11,633, 6,344 dwellings and 618 Airbnbs
- A high penetration rate of Airbnbs to dwellings of 9.7% (Scotland 1.2%)
- Two thirds (66%) of Airbnbs are entire homes (Scotland 69%) and one third shared private rooms (Scotland 30%).
Amount and use – There have been significant increases of STLs, adding to existing holiday accommodation, with a range of different types of STLs supply including homes, pods, sheds, caravans and tents. There was evidence of STLs use rather than traditional hotel accommodation, which some participants said held vacancies while STLs grew in number. The attraction of STLs was that it provides flexible and cheaper accommodation, often for younger travellers enjoying the outdoors with an increasing number of international visitors, looking for shorter stays for those touring the Highlands in a week or two.
Positive impacts – The positive impacts identified were tourism and impact on the local economy and jobs. This included extending the tourist season with benefits for tourism based industries and those working in STLs supply chain – cleaners, and property maintenance. Income for professional hosts was also identified as a benefit, as were the benefits for individual household income as a good proportion of STLs was home sharing in this area. But for many participants in this area, these benefits were outweighed by the negatives outlined below.
Negative impacts – The most common negative impact identified was the impact of availability on residential accommodation. Shifts from long-term lets and sales for STLs were identified with impacts on housing affordability. Many participants identified the difficulty for incoming workers for local industry, key workers, university staff and students to secure accommodation. Increased levels of congestion caused by tourism was considered a negative impact, along with concerns about the stress placed on infrastructure as a result of the increased tourism, supported by the increase in STLs. There were high levels of concern about impacts on sustainability of the community especially stifling economic development due to lack of labour caused by housing shortages.
Glasgow City Centre – Inner-city event tourism
This ward of Glasgow includes the central business district and the SEC, Scotland's largest exhibition centre, located in the district of Finnieston on the north bank of the River Clyde. It has:
- A population of 32,633, 19,401 dwellings and 627 Airbnbs
- A lower penetration rate of Airbnbs to dwellings of 3.2% compared to other case study areas (Scotland 1.2%)
- A high proportion of entire dwelling Airbnbs at 78% (Scotland 69%) and lower proportion of home sharing of private rooms (23%, Scotland 30%).
Amount and use – There were some increases of STLs identified with mature areas of STLs in the modern new build flats in the central business district, compared to new growth areas in traditional tenemental residential areas close to the Scottish Exhibition Centre (SEC) such as Kelvingrove, Finnieston and Yorkhill. The attraction of STLs was seen as convenient, cheaper whole flat accommodation especially for groups, families and friends attending music and other events. The visitors using STLs tended to be Scottish and UK event tourists for one or two nights, or business visitors for longer periods.
Positive impacts – The positive impacts were identified as increased trade for the hospitality sector from event tourists and STLs supply chain. Other benefits included income for professional hosts, and benefits for individual household income for the minority of STLs that home share in this area
Negative impacts – The main negative impact identified was concern from residents, communities and businesses about the impact of anti-social behaviour from over-night stays and party flats associated with event tourism experienced especially within tenements with common space, resulting in negative impacts of disturbance and quality of life and well-being for residents. Some shifts from long-term lets and sales to STLs were also identified as a negative impact for availability of residential accommodation.
Skye – remote rural established tourism
Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides known for its stunning island scenery with:
- A population of 10,462, 5,813 dwellings and 1,083 Airbnbs
- The highest penetration rate in Scotland Airbnbs to dwellings 18.6% (Scotland 1.2%)
- A lower than average proportion of entire dwelling Airbnbs 61% (Scotland 69%) and higher proportion of home sharing of private rooms (38%, Scotland 30%).
Amount and use – There were significant increases of STLs identified, with continuing demand relative to supply. Supply included whole homes, shared homes, pods, caravans and tents on people's property. The attraction of STLs in Skye is visitor accommodation supply of whatever type, due to the high level of demand. International visitors have increased, visiting different Scottish locations in one to two weeks through short-stays.
Positive impacts – The positive impact identified was tourism which has long been the major industry in Skye but with its further growth facilitated by STLs which has positive financial benefits to a large proportion of households in Skye whether as hosts, STLs supply chain or part of the wider tourism sector. The tourist season was said to now to be all year round. The benefits identified was income for professional STLs providers, and individual household income for home sharers who are a notable proportion of STLs providers in Skye.
Negative impacts – The common theme from all participants was the lack of residential homes and housing affordability with shift from long-term lets and sales for STLs, including STLs in the social housing sector. There was very little, if any, available supply of residential private rented housing, with difficulty for incoming workers to secure accommodation, especially key workers working in essential public services in health and social care, and education. There were concerns about the impacts on the long-term sustainability of the community due to lack of housing for incoming workers, including the impacts on ability to implement infrastructure works, and resource public services due to a lack of housing accommodation for workers.