THE BIGGEST platform for short-term let accommodation has warned that the SNP’s licensing plans for the industry pose “a significant barrier to Scotland’s economic recovery” from the pandemic.

Airbnb has told MSPs that plans to require short-term let operators to obtain a licence or face fines of up to £50,000 “threatens Scotland’s tourism economy with one of the world’s most restrictive regulatory systems”.

The Scottish Government has put forward plans for all short-term let operators, including some B&B owners, to have to secure a licence from their local authority in order to operate.

If approved, the proposals will come into force on April 1. But local authorities will have until April 1, 2022 to establish a scheme in their area and open it to receive applications, with existing hosts having until April 1, 2023 to apply.

In a submission sent to Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee, seen by The Herald, Airbnb has told MSPs that the plans “will cause a significant hit to tourism capacity” and “would lumber all hosts in Scotland with hundreds of pounds of licensing costs”.

It adds: “Imposing these burdens, this legislation does not adequately discriminate between professional hosts and the ordinary people who may use Airbnb to generate vital additional income.

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“This legislation threatens Scotland’s tourism economy with one of the world’s most restrictive regulatory systems on short-term lets.

“In the face of a predicted global financial shock, the committee must consider whether it can allow such a threat to hamper and disadvantage Scotland’s economy, when the survival of tourism is crucial to help local economies recover.”

The company is now calling for a balanced way forward that regulates short-term lets while protecting traders.

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Patrick Robinson, director of public policy at Airbnb, said: “Airbnb has long supported calls for sensible regulation in Scotland but the proposals from the Government risk hurting ordinary families and home sharers that rely on their income to help make ends meet.

“We’re calling on the committee to back a balanced way forward that means home sharers can continue to be the beating heart of Scottish tourism and are not prevented from doing so by red tape.”

Fears have also been raised by the industry body for Scotland’s self-catering industry – warning of the “devastating” impact the new rules could have on traders as they attempt to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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In her submission to MSPs, Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC), has warned that “it is well known that licensing regimes discriminate against small businesses in favour of larger ones”.

She added: “On any reasonable analysis, and on the survey feedback provided to us, potentially 49 per cent of these small business owners will close their properties, many retaining just for personal use as second homes.

“All this will be devastating to the Scottish tourist industry, not just to business owners forced to close but to the supply chain that depends on it and to guests who will find prices go up and property availability decreases.”

Ms Campbell has stressed that the proposals, as they stand, “will lead to significant business closures”.

She added: “We assume of course this is not the Scottish Government’s intention but unfortunate unintended consequences, yet we and others have pointed out these concerns many times – apparently falling on deaf ears.

“Out of the 1,184 respondees to our recent survey nearly half (49%) would leave the self-catering sector if the proposed licensing scheme was introduced and of those 33% would leave their property empty or use it for family and friends.”

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David Weston, the chairman of the Scottish B&B Association has also warned that the proposals "will catch small B&Bs too”.

He added: “All the B&B owners in Scotland we have spoken to are understandably very concerned that the poorly-drafted short-term lets licensing legislation would be hugely onerous to microbusinesses across Scotland, and would be a catastrophic double whammy after these very same small family businesses have been so disproportionately hit by Covid-19.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have consulted extensively, including with the Scottish B&B Association, on our proposals for a licensing scheme. The licensing scheme levels the playing field between homes used as B&Bs and homes listed on platforms such as Airbnb, as well as helping to ensure safety for visitors and neighbours.

“Following careful consideration of over 1,000 responses to our recent consultation on the regulation of short-term lets, we laid secondary legislation giving local authorities powers to license short-term lets.

"If approved by Parliament, the legislation will come into force on 1 April 2021. However, existing operators will have until 1 April 2023 to apply for a licence.

“Many hosts, including B&B operators, will already be following these standards and this scheme will help to bring all operators up to standard. We are establishing a working group to develop guidance on the licensing scheme for hosts and local authorities and we will ensure suitable representation on that group from the B&B sector to help us shape the guidance.”