A Highland tourism business leader has said the sector is “running towards the cliff edge of capacity” as operators quit amid new short-term lets legislation concerns.

On day two of The Herald’s special series on short-term lets in Scotland, we focus on pressures at an iconic Highland tourism hotspot, where 16 operators have recently left the sector.

There are concerns within the Cairngorms National Park around a proposed Highland Council planning control area in Badenoch and Strathspey which it is claimed will have the opposite of the intended effect of freeing up scarce local housing.

Taking the extra measure available is similar to a move by the City of Edinburgh Council. The council was successfully challenged in a judicial review brought by business owners when Lord Braid concluded at the Court of Session that the council’s policy was unlawful, prompting the local authority to “update” its proposal.

Mark Tate, chief executive of the Cairngorms Chamber of Commerce, which also operates the destination management organisation Visit Cairngorms, said there is anxiety around the control area and other aspects of the law, which is aimed at tackling issues around the rise of unregulated Airbnb-style short-term lets in Scotland.

“We have over 400 members, and the vast majority of our members given the nature of our economy are in tourism,” Mr Tate said. “We are very worried about albeit unintended economic impacts of both the short-term lets legislation and the proposed planning control area for Badenoch and Strathspey, which is the biggest part of the economy in the Cairngorms."

The Herald:

Self-catering is worth more than £90 million to the local economy a year, and it supports 1,600 full-time equivalent jobs.

People are quitting the sector even ahead of the October 1 application deadline, he said.

Mr Tate told The Herald: “We are already seeing assets being taken out of the economy because operators are just deciding to give up.

“Most worryingly, where we know of someone that has stopped operating we are doing our best to track what is happening with that property and we know of 16 that have withdrawn so far.”

OPINION: Paul McLennan: The vast majority of hosts are responsible

OPINION: Fergus Ewing: They are the lifeblood of tourism in Scotland

He said the proposals appear to be having the opposite effect of freeing up homes for local people.

“Twelve of those [16] have become second homes so they have gone from being economically active for 35-40 weeks of the year putting money into the economy to being economically active two or three weekends maybe.

“We are concerned. It is a huge part of our economy, it is huge part of the income for our communities and we are running towards the cliff edge of capacity. We are pretty full in the summer [already].

“Any reduction in capacity is a reduction in income for shops, restaurants and cafes."

The Herald: Badenoch and Strathspey gem Loch Morlich, and, inset, Mark TateBadenoch and Strathspey gem Loch Morlich, and, inset, Mark Tate (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Tate said the accommodation owners had "cancelled their membership because they are stopping their business".

“Most of these properties aren’t suitable for affordable homes," he added. "Most are big properties and are now just sitting empty."

He added: “For us in Cairngorms, we have a year-round economy so it will impact us this winter if they can’t operate.”

Highland Council said that as of September 5, there were 3,507 applications for a short-term let licence and 1,462 issued, against around 10,000 operators, with zero refusals.

PART ONE: 'The failure of operators rests with them'

ANALYSIS: Scotland's polarising Airbnb-style short-term lets crackdown

A spokesperson for the council said it has “the necessary staff and processes already in place to deal with the estimated number of applications” if there is a late rush.

“Members are concerned that the loss of housing stock to the secondary let market is unsustainable across Ward 20 (Badenoch and Strathspey) and is pushing up house prices across the ward, preventing local people being able to live and work within their communities,” the spokesperson also said.

“We are not aware of us being approached regarding any potential legal action over the short-term let control area.”

Paul McLennan, Scottish Housing Minister, said: "Regulation of short-term lets has been introduced at a time of significant growth and change in the sector and to make sure that accommodation is safe, including gas safety certificates and suitable electrical equipment, as well as responding to community concerns on the impacts.

“We are continuing to listen to the sector. The tourism and hospitality sector overall is a vital part of our economy, that is why we want to protect and develop it, but in a sustainable way that delivers for all of society.”

In part three tomorrow, “unintended consequences” apply extra pressure to small businesses still reeling after the pandemic and cost of living crisis.