SCOTLAND’S Tourism Secretary has “let the cat out the bag” after admitting that his own Government's plans to regulate Airbnb-style short-term lets could penalise traders in rural parts of the country.

Businesses in more isolated parts of Scotland have warned the plans are a “blunt instrument” that will see trade impacted across the country when the industry is attempting to recover from the pandemic.

The Scottish Government has drawn up plans to require owners of short-term let properties to obtain a licence from their local council or face fines of up to £50,000.

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.

Some B&B owners have also raised fears that they will be regulated as part of the crackdown.

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But the SNP’s Tourism Secretary, Fergus Ewing, has warned the Scottish Government has “received quite a large number of representations” over the proposals, after a consultation was launched on the plans.

Speaking at Holyrood’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, Mr Ewing said: “I do not want businesses to struggle with burdens at the moment.”

He added: “I take the concerns seriously and, because I do not want tourism businesses to be punished, I have discussed with colleagues whether there are other steps that we can take to ameliorate, soften or diminish the impacts and, in particular, the financial impact.

“I have been an MSP for 21 years and I have never received an antisocial behaviour complaint about a bed and breakfast business in my constituency.

“Some accommodation providers feel that they are being subjected to measures that are not really directed at them but at others, perhaps in our capital city.”

In a submission to Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee, the Scottish Islands Federation, has warned the proposals are “too draconian for its purpose”.

Visit Moray Speyside told MSPs that “the proposed changed miss the point”.

READ MORE: Unlawful Airbnb hosts could face £50,000 fines under crackdown

The organisation added: “They are seeking to address a problem which simply does not exist in our area.

“A nationwide licensing system is a ‘blunt instrument’ approach to a localised problem of amateur operators in major cities, rather a solution which fits the whole of the Scotland. There is insufficient appreciation of or distinction between the many types of visitor accommodation providers.”

The sentiment is shared by the Cairngorms Business Partnership, which labeled the plans “totally disproportionate”, warning the new laws will “drive out of the market professional and responsible operators”.

The group added: “The balance should shift to better target those areas and business types that are creating challenges. We understand those to be primarily in urban locations, particularly Edinburgh. A whole Scotland approach is totally inappropriate.”

But council bosses in Edinburgh have warned that implementing the plans “will require significant additional resources”, adding that the scale of short-term lets in Edinburgh, thought to be around 14,000 properties, “will also present challenges for the council to effectively administer”.

The Scottish Tories have called on the Scottish Government to re-think the plans, suggesting the policy has been rushed through ahead of May’s election to win support from city voters.

Scottish Conservative rural economy spokesman, Jamie Halcro Johnston, said: “Fergus Ewing has let the cat out the bag. The SNP are prepared to harm our rural communities just to try and appease their potential voters in target seats.

“That’s all too typical of SNP ministers who focus on the central belt at the expense of the rest of Scotland.

“The SNP must rethink these regulations. Our councils are already over stretched in dealing with the pandemic and can ill-afford to have this additional burden placed on them from April.

“Our tourism industry has been one of the worst hit by Covid and urgently needs financial support from the SNP Government not more regulation.”

Fiona Campbell, the chief executive of the Association of Scottish Self-Caterers (ASSC), has raised concerns about ministers “working to their original timescale of having a licensing scheme in place by spring 2021” despite the pandemic.

She added: “We believe that a licensing system is a blunt tool to fix a perceived and localised problem of amateur operators in Edinburgh, rather than being a solution that is appropriate for the whole of the Scotland, nor is it one that makes a necessary distinction between different types of visitor accommodation providers.

“The ASSC remains concerned that little differentiation is made between different types of operator in what is a diverse short-term letting landscape, with potentially dire unintended consequences to the professional self-catering sector that contributes £723m to Scotland.”