Office for National Statistics, Short-Term Lets and Edinburgh: A story of capacity and impact.

POSTED ON March 13, 2024 BY Terry Levinthal

Overtourism has been an issue for Edinburgh for some time

The Office for National Statistic might not be on everyone’s list to follow, but there is no question of the interest and importance of its work.  It usually surfaces in news reports about the economy in connection with employment or inflation, but its work spans a far greater range of interests than one might think.

An ONS bulletin published online on 4 March 2024 highlighted its recent report “Short-term lets through online collaborative economy platforms”.  It analysed data in Quarter 3 of 2023 (July to September) on the number of guest nights, nights, and stays for short-term lets offered via online collaborative economy platforms (Airbnb, and Expedia Group) in the UK.  The report can be found here –


The information is broken down into Local Administrative Units (LAU) or, effectively, local authority areas.  The figures are telling. As already said, the data was derived from the three main large collaborative economy on-line platforms – Airbnb, and Expedia Group.  The data is comprehensive and the various graphs, charts and maps communicate a very thorough data scrape on the main STL platforms.

Over this period, there were nearly 28.9 million stays in short-term lets across the UK with the highest number in all local authority areas being Cornwall (c1.6million).  Edinburgh comes second with c1.2 million stays and Westminster third with 872,000.

The highest share of guest nights in Scotland was Edinburgh with 26.9% of the total for Scotland, which is 3.8 times higher than the second highest LAU in Scotland, Glasgow City (7%).

Edinburgh also had the highest number of domestic guest nights in Scotland (345,000) and the highest number of international guest nights (812,190) which accounted for 36.3% of all international guest nights in Scotland.

Edinburgh was also the most popular area in the UK for international guest nights, more than both the second highest, Westminster (757,350) and third highest, Kensington and Chelsea (389,720).

Of course, Westminster and Chelsea are not a million miles apart, so separating them into separate LAU skews the geographic picture.  Across all of London LAUs, there will be a much higher STL usage but not as great as one might guess.  In London, there were 5,125,710 guest nights (on average 55,714 guest nights each day) took place in Q3 of 2023.  Across all of Scotland, there were 4,301,420 guest nights (on average 46,755 guest nights each day).  But as already noted, Edinburgh has around 1.2M guest nights or just over a quarter of London’s total. Given the fact that London’s population is around 16 times that of Edinburgh and covers about 13 times the geographic area, as a small city, Edinburgh experiences disproportionately higher levels of STL guest nights than all LAUs bar Cornwall.

This is not news. Scottish Government and City of Edinburgh Council data has shown the huge expansion of STLs in the city over the past decade.  However, seeing the comparative scale of this on a UK level is telling.

Many will see this as a good news story.  The Short-term Let lobby as well as the tourism and Festival sectors, will see this as a proxy indicator for the success of their industries.  From their perspectives, this might be reasonable.

However, others including the Cockburn Association and many community groups in Edinburgh will see this as a vindication of their concerns regarding Short-term lets in particular and uncontrolled expansion and chronic under-management of tourism in general.  Overtourism has been an issue for Edinburgh for some time.  The untrammelled expansion of STLs over the past decade has been a market response to the expansion of tourism in Edinburgh.

It might an uncomfortable message for some, but the links between overtourism, STL expansion and the current housing emergency declared by the City of Edinburgh Council are direct. The legal challenges by industry bodies and STL operators to the new regulatory processes (see our comments in News and Views on this) points to the difficulties faced in putting some sort of public control in place.

This debate is set to continue.






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