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Why do people stay in Short-Term Lets (Self-Catering Units) in Edinburgh?

There is a common trope that short-term lets in Edinburgh are ‘party flats’ where anti-social behaviour is rife This has been frequently rolled out in the media and in the political sphere by some MSPs. Similarly, we have been accused of facilitating sex traffickers, drug dealers and puppy farmers.

Such anecdote and hearsay doesn’t accord with reality. In 2018, there were just 6 complaints about antisocial behaviour lodged with City of Edinburgh Council attributed to short-term lets. This compares to 1,456 complaints about occupants of other residential accommodation. In 2019, there were 59, compared to 1,626. In 2020, there were 28, compared to 1,570. In 2021, there were 7 compared to 1,104. A total of 100 compared to 5,756 complaints, representing under 2% of the complaints. Figures for short-term lets are a mere drop in the ocean compared to other types of housing tenure.

We are also used as a convenient scapegoat for housing challenges in Edinburgh when such problems are much more complex. It is important to place the debate in a holistic context, while recognising that self-catering boosts the local economy by £71m per annum. For instance, did you know that Edinburgh is an empty homes hotspot in Scotland, with over 7,000 properties currently lying unused? However, this fails to attract the same level of attention and headlines as the growth in holiday lets.

So, are all short-term lets ‘party flats’? The simple fact is that the self-catering sector supports far more than just tourism needs. Indeed, there are a raft of reasons why people require transient accommodation. For example, guests include parents settling children into university and parents coming for graduation ceremonies, grandparents coming to help with childcare issues and school closures, and visiting whilst family members are in hospital. The self-catering sector provides a ‘home from home’ that’s much needed and appreciated by our guests.

Across Edinburgh’s summer Festivals, it is estimated that 25,400 bed nights are required for each night of Edinburgh’s 25-day peak August season” according to Festivals Edinburgh. That equates to 635,000 bed nights. Self-catering accommodation is key to this capacity and a reduction in the number of these properties threatens the continued viability of the Festivals.

Nonetheless, as much as 40% of visitors to Edinburgh stay for non-tourist reasons, such as that related to their employment. This can include but is not limited to:

  • Overseas academics on new contracts waiting for permanent accommodation
  • Visiting professionals waiting for work visas
  • People visiting family whose homes are too small to accommodate them
  • Visitors working remotely who spend money in the local economy
  • Postgraduate students on short term courses.

Scotland’s self-catering industry has become an increasingly important component of the country’s tourism sector in recent years, providing visitors with a flexible and affordable option for exploring Scotland’s unique landscapes, culture, and heritage. In addition to supporting leisure travel, the self-catering industry also plays a vital role in supporting corporate travel and other non-tourism related activities.

Below are some case studies which show just how vital self-catering can be for individuals and families in Scotland, not just those visiting Edinburgh for a holiday. It is interwoven to many other aspects of our society beyond tourism.

 Medical Support

  • Two ladies from Inverness staying whilst the father had a heart operation, he was helicoptered down as an emergency.
  • Couple from Dornoch whose son suffered a head injury. The parents stayed 8 times in 2 months as the son’s condition was touch and go.
  • Gentleman from Inverness whose son was admitted to Royal Edinburgh. He was allowed to bring his son out for occasional nights as part of his treatment.
  • Lady from Skye having chemotherapy.
  • Parents of couples having a new baby that want to be sure of adequate medical supervision (largely travelling form island communities).
  • Lady from Inverness having a dental implant.
  • Repeat guests from a residential home near York, three girls come with two carers. They have complex needs and the carers are look after them day and night – a hotel room would not be appropriate for their needs.
  • A mother and daughter from Glasgow stayed while the father was in intensive care in a specialist unit in Edinburgh.
  • Families from the North of Scotland who bring their kids for respite.
  • Gentleman in wheelchair visiting for 2 weeks from Australia to see his brother who was dying. He needed his carer with him, with suitable accommodation.
  • NHS workers staying during Covid outbreak so they could work in the hospital without risk of passing the virus to family members.

Additional Accommodation Capacity

  • Lady across the hall’s family come to visit and stay in my flat as she does not have room.
  • Couple from Nottingham visit their son and family 3 times a year. No room for them and their guide dog at the sons.
  • A couple from the Netherlands were looking for a Senior suite for long-term assisted living and they wanted something close by relatives that live in this area, they were here for 3 weeks.
  • Weddings, funerals. People visiting elderly parents in care homes.
  • Couple from America stayed for three weeks, working remotely, whilst they visited parents they had not seen since before the Covid pandemic.
  • People who have moved overseas visiting family back in Scotland.
  • Numerous families visiting students and young professionals who are now living in Edinburgh, taking an apartment allows them to host their young person as well as themselves – so they can have a wee reunion.

Work Contractors

  • Consultant surgeon undertaking a locum placement.
  • A doctor from the Czech Republic that had a 3 month placement undertaking Cancer research. Our property is close to the Western General Hospital , where the research is being undertaken.
  • A lady from Germany that worked in the film industry who needed a place near the producer (close to our self-catering unit) to edit the film. She stayed for 1 month.
  • Contractors working on the new Haymarket development.
  • Engineers from England to work at the trams to Newhaven project to speed up the works.
  • Technical personnel working on wind farms projects.

Business Visitors

  • Exhibitors attending conferences at EICC.
  • Conference attendees for events being held at EICC.
  • Artists setting up exhibitions at the Royal Academy.
  • Festivals artists, participants and production staff who stay for up to two months in preparation and delivery.
  • Jersey Crew cast who were showing at the Play House throughout January and February.
  • Film crew and artists.
  • A mother and daughter from London: the daughter enters the Craiglockhart tennis tournament annually.


  • Japanese family coming to look at University options for their son.
  • American lady settling her daughter into University.
  • A student who had a placement to go to Thailand. She was unable to stay in her student accommodation after finishing her University degree until the placement started a month later. Out self-catering property was ideal to cover that month.
  • A French couple studying at Napier University for three months, and they couldn’t get flexible accommodation through a PRT, nor did they need to stay for 6 months.
  • A lady on a four-month secondment at the university.
  • Mature student completing his masters in Edinburgh, Belgium and Sweden using Short Term Lets.
  • Doctors and a Dentist sitting exams at Surgeon’s Hall.
  • Visiting lecturers.
  • Business associates visiting Bayes Centre of University.
  • Historian using Edinburgh University Library.

House Moving / Renovations / Insurance

  • A couple that was relocated from London to start a new employment position, waiting for their house to be finished (a five month stay).
  • A family from Aberdeen moving to Edinburgh and needed a place until their new property was ready booked for a month.
  • One of our downstairs neighbours renting the property for 2 weeks while the new property they are moving into is being rewired.
  • Gentleman from the Old Town whose flat was flooded and he needed somewhere local with a washing machine, cooker etc. A hotel wasn’t an option.
  • A couple coming for a week of house-hunting, as they’re planning to move to Scotland.
  • People in between house sale and new house purchase going through.
  • Guests getting major renovations at home and needing somewhere in the area so the children could attend school without their routine being disrupted.
  • Guests moving home bringing pets, plants, luggage etc until the house sale is completed.
  • A gentleman whose flat had suffered fire damage and the insurance company put him up in our self-catering unit.

Holidaymakers using self-catering are just a fragment of the overall picture. Much of the ‘quieter’ months are busy with guests who are not on ‘holiday’, far less staying to have a ‘party’.  An increasing number of people continue to choose self-catering over hotel accommodation, a trend backed up by data from VisitScotland. Many operators in Edinburgh only offer ‘short-term lets’ during August and September when the festival is on. The rest of the year they accommodate longer-term-stays from 3 weeks to 4 months. These still fall under the definition of a short-term let. These people benefit from the flexibility and independence of self-catering accommodation. This experience cannot be replicated in a hotel environment, nor do the guests want it to be.

If City of Edinburgh Council continues to introduce the significant barriers for the self-catering sector under its short-term let licensing scheme (with the presumptive rebuttal against the granting of a licence to a flatted dwelling, plus the proposed planning policy that does not support properties in flatted dwellings), it amounts to a de facto ban of the activity contrary to assurances made. What options will the aforesaid guests above be left with –

serviced apartments or hotels? That is neither feasible nor sustainable and risks economic, social and cultural damage to the city. Edinburgh simply does not have the accommodation capacity, and it does not give guests the choice that they deserve or expect from a European capital. Instead, we need an approach that is proportionate, evidence-based and justified, not one that regulates professional businesses out of existence for no material benefit.

April 2023

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