Short-term lets: Scottish Government must strike a balance between controlling their numbers and fostering tourist economy – Scotsman comment
In these troubled times, good news can be hard to find. However, according to new figures from the United Nations, global tourism has almost recovered to the levels seen before the Covid pandemic. Some 975 million tourists travelled internationally between January and September this year, up 38 per cent on the same period last year.
The UN’s World Tourism Organisation said “international tourism is well on track to fully recover pre-pandemic levels in 2024 despite economic challenges such as high inflation and weaker global output, as well as important geopolitical tensions and conflicts”.
In 2022, there were 3.2 million trips to Scotland made by overseas visitors, with the tourism sector as a whole generating about £5.1 billion in gross value added to the economy. This was down from 3.46 million visits in 2019, the year before Covid hit, but only slightly, demonstrating that this country still has considerable appeal.
Given the 38 per cent global increase in travellers this year and further increases expected in 2024, there is clearly an opportunity for Scotland to reap further financial benefits. Amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and a generally lacklustre economy, it therefore makes sense for the Scottish Government to take steps to ensure the industry is in a position to capitalise on the rising numbers.
This brings us to ministers’ controversial decisions to introduce a licensing system for short-term lets and enable councils to introduce control areas designed to limit the number of such properties. Yesterday, after parts of Edinburgh City Council’s short-term let crackdown were ruled unlawful, the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers said the two petitioners “took the courageous decision to bring this action against Edinburgh Council to protect not only their businesses, but also an industry that is critical to both the capital’s economy and the entire tourism sector”.
In some parts of Scotland, short-term lets have caused serious problems with, for example, repeated drunken parties making neighbours’ lives hell or whole tenement stairs taken up. However, as with most things, there is a balance to be struck and politicians must never lose sight of the importance of a healthy economy.
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