Edinburgh’s world famous festivals are facing an “economic shock” as a result of new short-term letting regulations – with MSPs being warned that this could lead to Scotland losing a “unique part of its intangible cultural heritage”.
Festivals Edinburgh, which brings together the bosses of the city’s various festivals, is warning that the loss of accommodation could result in the number of shows included as part of the world famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe falling about a third in 2024.
The arts organisation went on to warn this could lead to the loss of about 700 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs.
Festivals Edinburgh director Julia Amour told how a survey carried out by some of the major venues that take part in the Fringe, involving more than 300 accommodation providers, had suggested just under 10% of these would continue to make properties available under the coming regime.
The Fringe Society has taken a “slightly more benign view … that perhaps 50% of activity might be prevented by people being unable to get accommodation”, Ms Amour said
But with MSPs being told new licences for properties rented out as short term lets could cost up to £5,869 a year for larger premises in Edinburgh, fears have been raised that the introduction of licences for Airbnb-style lets could result in a third of the overall Fringe programme being lost.
In its written submission to MSPs on the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, Festivals Edinburgh noted the Fringe Society had made the “conservative estimate” that a third of its programme for 2024 could be lost, with this “representing a minimum of £30 million in additional economic impact and nearly 700 FTE (full time equivalent) jobs in the first year alone”.
Ms Amour told the committee: “There might be some people who feel that it could be an attractive idea for the Fringe to resize.
“However this is not a managed consolidation, this is an economic shock.
“And that economic shock would not simply have the effect of reducing the numbers of shows and the numbers of workers … but it is the start of a downward spiral.
“The spiral is the fewer shows, the fewer reviewers, the fewer bookers of work, the fewer audiences, and in a few small years Scotland has lost a unique part of its intangible cultural heritage.”
She added: “I don’t think this is simply an Edinburgh issue, I think the impacts, although they are not able to be fully known yet, the indicators are showing that that is a real risk.”
Her comments came as the submission from Festivals Edinburgh described the various events that take place in the Scottish capital each year as being “collectively on a par with a FIFA World Cup or Commonwealth Games”.
While festivals returned to Edinburgh in 2022 following the Covid pandemic, last year they operated at around 75% on 2019 levels.
With the Scottish Government having pushed back the deadline for hosts of Airbnb-style short-term lets to apply for a new licensing scheme by six months, MSPs on the committee were taking evidence about the impact this would have.
Property owners now have until October 31 this year to apply for a licence, instead of the previous date of March 31.
Ms Amour said: “Because we haven’t got close to the deadline yet there isn’t firm evidence about what the behaviour of the industry will be.”
But she added: “I think the impacts although they are not able to fully known yet, the indicators are showing that that is a real risk.”
Ailsa Raeburn, the chair of Community Land Scotland, said the delay would mean that “poor tourist accommodation will be unsafe and unlawful for longer”.
She added: “All we’re doing is allowing another busy season to operate with accommodation that is not meeting standards.
“A delay gives more time to dangerous and unlawful operators. There are a significant number of operators who we know are operating in properties that won’t get planning consent, particularly in Edinburgh, but they will continue to operate without licensing and without planning.”