Online lettings giant Airbnb has tentatively welcomed Welsh Government plans to distinguish between buy-to-let speculators and ordinary homeowners who rent out rooms. It follows the announcement of new planning classes for accommodation in Wales.
The Welsh Government is also introducing a licensing system for holiday lets and allowing local councils to impose quotas on the number of second homes in their areas. In addition, local authorities will be given powers to increase land transaction tax rates on second homes and holiday lets. You can read more about the new measures here.
Airbnb said the planning proposals were an “opportunity to…. clamp down on speculators that drive housing concerns and overtourism”. By the end of the summer, councils will be able to decide whether properties are classed as a primary home, a second home or short-term holiday accommodation.
A spokesperson said: “Policy makers must acknowledge that not all accommodation providers are the same and not all forms of tourism are created equal. There is a big difference between buy-to-let speculators and hosts who occasionally share their homes on Airbnb to afford the rising cost of living.
“People who host in their own home represent a category of accommodation providers who differ fundamentally from both property speculators and hotels.”
This week’s announcements were part of ongoing efforts by the Welsh Government to get to grips with the huge growth in second homes and holiday lets in Wales, blamed for spiraling housing crises in holiday hotspots.
Local councils have already been given the authority to top up council tax on second homes by 300% from next year – and potentially holiday lets too if they fail to meet stiff new targets for occupancy rates. The tourism sector has warned of horrific consequences – you can read more about this here.
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Airbnb warned that future planning rules should be “targeted, proportionate and accessible”. Otherwise, Wales risk penalising local residents who rent out rooms so they can afford to stay in the communities where they grew up.
Video: AirBnb host kicks guest out of house after she ‘complained about mouldy food in bin’ (The Independent)
The company said punitive changes also risks “cutting an economic lifeline for thousands during one of the greatest economic challenges in decades”.
A spokesperson said: “The majority of hosts in Wales are everyday families who share their primary home and rent their space for just three nights-a-month on average. More than four in 10 hosts in Wales say they host to afford the rising cost of living, and over a third say the additional income helps them make ends meet.
“Almost a quarter of Welsh hosts work in either education, healthcare or hospitality. Over two thirds are women and more than a quarter are over 60.”
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First Minister Mark Drakeford and Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price say ‘radical’ action is needed
In recent years the market for short-term holiday lets has boomed, especially since Airbnb was launched in the UK in 2009. Between April 2016 and May 2019, the number of active Airbnb listings tripled, from 76,000 to more than 225,000. As of January 2020, there were 257,000 listings – another increase of 14%.
Other operators have also expanded rapidly, with short-term lets often offering better returns than long-term rentals. Soaring property values have priced local people out of the housing market and First minister Mark Drakeford said a “radical programme” of action is needed to counter the trend.
He said: “Tourism is vital to our economy but having too many holiday properties and second homes, which are empty for much of the year, does not make for healthy local communities. There is no single, simple solution to these issues.
“Any action we take must be fair. We do not want to create any unintended consequences, which could destabilise the wider housing market or make it harder for people to rent or buy.”
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For its part, Airbnb said it “looks forward” to working with the Welsh Government on rules that “clamp down on speculators and big businesses”. In a survey it carried out earlier this year, the company said one in four guests specifically chose Airbnb to save money. This, said the company, not only benefits local people, it disperses the benefits of tourism beyond hotel hotspots.
According to a 2020 study by Oxford Economics, spending by Airbnb guests supports more than 3,500 jobs in Wales. Around a quarter of guests said their Airbnb stay enabled them to experience an area they probably wouldn’t have visited, while 60% followed their host’s recommendation of a local business or place to visit.