The Bevan Foundation
Airbnb has taken Wales by storm. The number of properties listed on the platform has increased by more than 50 per cent in the last four years, so that by May 2022 there were more than 21,000 Airbnb’s in Wales. Reflecting this growth, Airbnb has become like Marmite: for some it’s the route to a weekend away but for others it is synonymous with a shortage of housing and loss of community.
Despite the controversy, remarkably little is known about the platform in Wales. To find out more, the Bevan Foundation commissioned research on Airbnb listings. Some of the findings may surprise you.
As you might expect, the places with the largest number of properties listed on Airbnb are the holiday hotspots of Gwynedd and Pembrokeshire, which together account for nearly a third of all of Wales’ Airbnb listings. What may raise an eyebrow is that Cardiff is also an Airbnb hotspot, ranking third with 1,694 properties listed. And there is no area of Wales that has escaped the Airbnb phenomenon: the places with the fewest are Blaenau Gwent with 40 listings and Torfaen with 52.
What lies behind the growth of Airbnb? Without question, money. Average prices for a week’s occupation vary depending on time of year, location, property size and type and quality. But as an indication, in May 2022 the average rent for a one-bedroom self-contained property was £710.14 a week while the average weekly rent for a self-contained property with four or more bedrooms was £2,175 a week. Not a bad return on most measures.
Interestingly, the highest average weekly rents are not found in the traditional holiday areas of Gwynedd and Pembrokeshire but in and around the capital. The Bevan Foundation found that the average weekly rent for properties listed in Cardiff was £1,207.70 a week and in the Vale of Glamorgan was £1,072.78 a week. Indeed Airbnb management companies single out Cardiff, along with Tenby and Carmarthen, as ‘high earning locations’.
And in that there are some clues as to the real nature of Airbnb. Airbnb has fostered a folksy image of the sharing economy, with ‘hosts’ welcoming guests to use a spare room, empty annex or a shepherd’s hut in their garden. That may still be the case for some Airbnb listings: the Bevan Foundation’s data found that four out of ten Airbnb listings were by hosts who have just one property listed. But that’s only part of the story.
Many Airbnb properties in Wales are listed by people or organisations who manage more than one property through the platform. The Bevan Foundation found that a third of all Airbnb properties on offer in Wales are provided by hosts with ten or more listings, rising to more than half of available properties in Gwynedd, Anglesey, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. These are not individuals letting out an empty space but relatively large businesses with medium to large portfolios. The image and name of your welcoming ‘host’ may well be that of an employee of the company or may even be fictitious.
Does this matter? Should we not welcome the growth of a new business sector?
The answer is yes and no. Holiday lettings are the core of Wales’ tourism industry: more cottages, yurts and shepherds’ huts in theory means more visitors spending money in the local economy. But Airbnb also allows landlords to easily flip their properties from residential letting to short-term letting, with less regulation and higher returns for the landlord and the loss of long-term homes from the private rental market. Airbnb also has less regulation and more flexibility than serviced accommodation, potentially undermining that section of the tourism industry.
Needless to say, Airbnb is not too keen on the Welsh Government’s plans to regulate holiday lets and plays to its ‘sharing economy’ message. The magazine ‘Letting Agent Today’ quotes Airbnb as saying:
“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 … [income from Airbnb is] an economic lifeline for thousands during one of the greatest economic challenges in decades”.
What’s clear is that Airbnb is everywhere in Wales, from Cardiff to Conwy, and it is present on a scale, generating significant returns for property owners. It is reshaping the holiday industry as well as affecting communities. Whether the planned regulation of holiday lets including Airbnb will strike the right balance between the two remains to be seen.