Airbnb rival launched on Scottish Islands that benefits local communities

A Tiree crofter has launched a booking platform for holiday homes on the Scottish Islands that reinvests into projects that support local communities. Mark Rowe reports.

Colourful houses around Tobermory harbour at sunrise in Mull
Published: March 17th, 2022 at 11:22 am
Get a Regatta Highton 35L Trail Rucksack when you subscribe to BBC Countryfile Magazine

Holidaymakers seeking to vacation on Scottish islands can now book via a social-enterprise rival to Airbnb that reinvests profits into affordable housing and community projects.

Advertisement

The move has come among frustration from islanders, across Shetland, Orkney and the Inner and Outer Hebrides, that ever-greater numbers of properties are rented out for tourism.

The consequences for communities can be severe, with local families and single people unable to get on their local property ladder and forced to move to the mainland. Meanwhile, schools, shops and pubs close in the face of dwindling year-round populations.

Now Rhoda Meek, a digital consultant and crofter on Tiree has launched IsleHoliday, which seeks to redress some of the imbalance. She decided to act in frustration, sparked when she saw a property-for-let in Tiree and wondered if she could buy it and put it on a long-term let. “I snapped because the money involved was just bonkers,” she says. “Despite being in good employment, the only way I could have afforded the mortgage payments would have been by renting the place out as a holiday let.”

Corfe village

“In my village on Tiree, the figure for holiday homes is around 50% of properties. On Mull, the number of lets has increased by 40% in the past five years. The figures are similar for many Scottish islands.”

Shale harbour with fishing boats on the isle of Tiree in Scotland
Holiday homes make up 50% of houses on the Isle of Tiree in Scotland./Credit: Getty

Meek is keen to stress that IsleHoliday is not anti-tourism. “It’s something we wrestle with, because it’s increasingly problematic,” she says. “We want the tourists, it’s an important part of the economy. But equally, we have a huge housing problem for young people who want to stay in the Island. We need them – and single people – for a place to thrive and to work. There are consequences if houses get bought up. A visitor can stay or own a nice house but you won’t be able to have a nice cup of coffee or a meal in a pub when you come because those businesses won’t be here. This is not something we can address solely by ourselves, but we are looking to dilute the crisis.”

This is not something we can address solely by ourselves, but we are looking to dilute the crisis.
Rhoda Meek, IsleHoliday

IsleHoliday is being positioned as “the community booking platform for Scottish island holidays,” as Meek puts it. “All profits are reinvested in small businesses and housing projects. We are a social enterprise.”

The booking system will work on the same principles as Airbnb or Booking.com but with key differences, says Meek. “If people book through us, the money stays on the islands, the commission doesn’t go offshore, it doesn’t go to California.”

Property owners looking to rent out holiday lets are not being forced to choose, says Meek. “This is not a case of ‘either/or’ – they can still list their properties with Airbnb or Booking.com. We can sync the bookings. The owner will not lose out – it’s up to us to get the search algorithms right and get people to make their bookings through IsleHoliday.”

Meek hopes the scheme can piggyback off the success of Isle20, which acts as a platform and virtual marketplace for artwork, knitwear, soaps and other crafts produced on Scottish Islands.

Advertisement

“Isle20 has shown that if you pull together when faced with a problem, it can be hugely powerful. People who buy from Isle20 will tend to be sympathetic to the issues of islands and their communities. The difference is the value of commissions will be larger from holiday lets. It takes an awful lot of bars of soap to be sold to before you can make a useful impact on affordable housing,” she says.

Authors

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored content