When Airbnb hit the scene in 2007, the site was a way for people to make extra cash by renting out a room in their own home. Fast forward 16 years and it is now full of “entire places” to rent, many used solely as holiday lets, without any owners present.
Coastal areas of the UK, including hotspots like Cornwall, Wales and Whitstable, have seen the number of these Airbnb homes increase by 56% between 2019 and 2022. While this may look like good news for the site, its success has led to it being accused of swamping tourist hotspots with short-term lets and, as a result, forcing locals out of the property market.
These concerns have become a hot topic of discussion in parliament, leading to the government setting out proposals to change the law on holiday rentals, such as making it compulsory for owners in England to get planning permission to turn properties into short-term lets in tourist hotspots.
Under the new plans, the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities is also consulting on whether to give owners the flexibility to let out their home for a maximum number of nights without the need for the permission, as well as a proposal for a registration scheme for short-term holiday lets.
Communities’ secretary, Micheal Gove, is hoping these new plans will prevent local people from being pushed out of towns, villages and cities, and give them more access to affordable homes. It should also hopefully prevent many of the hotspot areas from becoming ghost towns in the off-season months, when it is common to find numbers of properties empty.
Airbnb has apparently welcomed the government’s plans but believes there needs to be a balance between protecting housing for the locals and supporting everyday families who let their space to help afford rising living costs. However, whilst there are some locals who rent their properties and spaces out on Airbnb, a growing number of these short-term lets are owned by people who do not live in the local area, those who have bought the properties for investment purposes and financial gains. Where the problem lies, is regulating this.
While these latest regulations in England may help to prioritize the local people, they have yet to be implemented. In Scotland, regulations are already in place, where, since October last year, landlords have required a license from the local council to operate a holiday let. And in Wales, the government has begun a series of measures to curb the number of holiday lets and second homes, including a licensing scheme, which requires people to obtain a license to operate visitor accommodation, like that of short-term holiday lets.
Along with the growth and influence of the Airbnb market, and its impact on the housing market, skepticism of the company has apparently begun to grow among holiday makers, many of whom are from the local areas that are being swamped by the short-term lets. Some of these locals believe it would be hypocritical of them to stay in non-owner occupied lettings when they themselves travel, opting instead to either rent a room in someone’s house which is occupied, or book through more traditional holiday companies.
Airbnb has rejected suggestions that people are avoiding the lettings which are not occupied or those where there are multiple properties owned by the same person or company, stating that it had not seen evidence to support this claim. According to the company, 80% of users on the site list just one property and 40% of hosts claim that the additional income helps them afford the rising living costs.
The Airbnb market is crowded, and it is already a very competitive world to be part of. With owners vying to be at the top spot of the search for their area, they rely on things like reviews. Similar to how many other industries rank the available offerings, like “Which” who compare and review a huge range of products on the market, or online casino databases, who use reviews to help people pick from things like the best UK live casinos, Airbnb relies heavily on customer feedback and their star rating to try and bring the holiday makers in.
If these potential new regulations do come into play, and holiday makers do find alternative places to stay at, Airbnb owners are going to have an even tougher time at staying ahead of the game. Only time will tell if this market is going to shift, and what this means for both the property owners and holiday makers alike.