Fiona Campbell: Short-term rentals are vital to Edinburgh’s success as a city

The following story is featured in Edinburgh Evening News:

Celebrated crime writer Val McDermid recently criticised what she sees as the impact that “over tourism” has on life in Edinburgh. In particular, she attacked the impact she believes that short-term rentals, and the platforms and routes to market that they use, have on the city. While her remarks were sincere and show, as if further proof were needed, that she cares deeply about our Capital – she is, nevertheless, wrong about the impact that tourism and short-term rentals have on life here.

Val’s overarching point is that short-term rentals are a driver of “excessive” levels of tourism in Edinburgh. While this point may, on the face of it, have some credible logic behind it; the facts and figures simply do not support it. Every year, Edinburgh welcomes in 18 million people who do not live here and only five million of them use any kind of commercial accommodation whatsoever. The fact of the matter is simple – the short-term rental sector is nowhere near big enough to have the impact that it is often said to have; there are simply not enough of us.

Furthermore, short-term rental operators, who are regulated professionals, represent a mere 0.5 per cent of Edinburgh’s entire housing stock. Even if we widen the definition of short-term rentals to include those who share their homes on Airbnb, that still only takes in 2.5 per cent of housing in the city. Moreover, of this tiny percentage, only two-thirds are full homes for rent and less than one-in-ten are available for rent for more than 180 days per year.

It needs to be restated for the sake of clarity – there aren’t enough short-term rental properties in Edinburgh to possibly have the impact that our sector is accused of having.

The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers has created our industry-leading Code of Conduct, to which all of our members must adhere, and consistently encourages best practice and diligence in our members in the properties they operate across the city and Scotland more generally.We are proud of our members and of the contribution they make to our country. Recently, our association published the Far More Than Just Houses report, in partnership with Frontline, which demonstrates that traditional short-term rentals contribute £723 million to the Scottish economy.

Val also appears to be part of the movement to impose a tax on our tourists. Her logic seems to be that doing so would deter tourists from visiting the city, which puts her in direct conflict with other supporters of the charge, who maintain that the it will not damage this vital industry.

From the ASSC’s point of view, we would only support a charge on our visitors if an evidence-based approach, which considered the impact it would have, was taken. At the moment this is, despite the best intentions of some like Val, just not the case.

Edinburgh is a city that is both modern and historic, we have a fine sense of community and we’re also able to welcome the tourists that help make our lives here as rich, and full, and multi-national as they are.

Sure, there are challenges, just like in any other city, but attacking a sector, particular one as valuable as tourism and especially short-term rentals, that makes such a huge contribution to city life would be counterproductive and to the city’s detriment. At that point, the good intentions of anyone, even impressive crime writers, would be mere dust in the wind.

Fiona Campbell is chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC)