An enterprising community project is offering visitors to the islands a community based alternative to that behemoth of holiday home rentals, Airbnb. IsleHoliday.com. is the latest venture to come out of the creative isle20.com which emerged in response to the the pandemic’s impact on island-based tourism.
Isle Develop CIC
IsleHoliday is the new project from Isle Develop CIC: the company behind isle20.com which is a marketplace, to allow small businesses to keep selling despite the lack of tourist footfall (during Covid). The success of this project gave rise to Isle Develop CIC – a Community Interest Company dedicated to putting profits back in the hands of island communities.
IsleHoliday is a bookings site, which will reinvest its revenue directly into local island communities.
Isle Develop CIC is a woman-led, island-based team who own their own businesses and are active in their communities.
They are passionate about creating secure futures for our islands and want our communities to be the main beneficiaries of these projects.
What is isleHoliday and why does it matter? Isle Develop CIC Founder Rhoda Meek, explains.
Similar to Airbnb, we offer full booking and payment functionality for property owners in the Scottish islands.
This is where the similarities end! We are a small social enterprise who want to use our profits for a purpose.
As islanders ourselves, we appreciate the role that tourism and holiday letting play in our local economies – we just wish the industry was less seasonal and more sustainable.
None of us will ever “do enough” individually to fix the island housing challenge. But together, we can have a big impact.
When I started isle20.com, a business directory for the Scottish islands — way back at the start of Covid — it was a wee idea that felt like it might be useful for a few folk.
It became a marketplace, offering an ecommerce facility for businesses. Then I realised that this was an opportunity to create a permanent shopping platform which might help islanders sell more in the off-season.
I decided it should be one of multiple projects under a social enterprise. So I formed Isle Develop CIC and started experimenting with new ideas.
Then I started talking to people about the project and trying to figure out how we could make an impact — both with digital projects AND with the profits.
People kept talking about the islands’ housing crisis. And I kept putting my head in the sand. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the housing issue, it was that it felt so big and so impossible.
One day, I saw that a property with huge potential, which had been on the market for ages had dropped its price, and I wondered to myself whether I could buy it, put it on a long term let and develop the associated buildings.
So I did the maths and the research, and I discovered that despite being in good full time employment with a software company, and theoretically able to get the mortgage (although I was unclear about where I would find the deposit!) I would be unable to make the mortgage repayments without subsidising it myself, unless it was set up as a short term holiday let.
And that’s when something inside me snapped. Again. (It’s the second snap in a few years.)
The system is broken. Property in the islands is too often seen as no more than a business opportunity. It’s bought up and renovated by people who don’t stay here, and then put on short term lets. And then we are told that we should be campaigning for affordable housing. And now we have to, because in many places, buying properties which currently exist is a pipe dream.
Because of a lack of understanding, a lack of regulation, and a systemic failure at all levels of government to understand island economies, we’re faced with a problem not of our making. And it is literally destroying our communities.
In my village 50% of the properties stand empty in the off season. 50%.
Everyone who owns them is lovely. Individuals all mean well and have good reasons for owning property but collectively, communities are sinking under the weight of empty houses, second homes and holiday lets.
And so, having joked about doing a version of isle20.com, but for holiday lets… It became less of a joke. Friends were willing to advise and help, the Isle Develop board were willing to take a risk on it, Firstport gave us some funding, and a year’s worth of work later…
We’re taking on Airbnb. Because, if you can’t beat them — join them.
This is isleHoliday.com. A holiday lettings website for the Scottish islands. We will reinvest the commission we take into our communities, into creating jobs, and into supporting small businesses AND housing projects.
Why? Well, we can’t change the law overnight and we can’t force people to sell.
We understand that the current market means that long term letting is not a viable alternative for people who have sunk a lot of money into property and want the freedom to visit it.
We understand that second homes and letting properties exist for a variety of reasons, not least for island residents to subsidise income, or to keep a grip of a fast disappearing heritage.
And we don’t want to lose tourism — we live in beautiful places, which we want to share. More businesses than I can count rely on it in so many ways. It is vital.
But tourism needs to work better. Being a “destination” needs to work for the benefit of island communities. Without the communities, there is no destination.
And so the short term letting model exists. And will continue to exist. It is rife with complexity — both logistical and emotional — but there is a way to ensure that more of the benefit stays in the islands.
There is a commission model built into the system. Most of the current booking platforms are for profit. The big guys are not based in Scotland. Some are not even based in the UK. The commission they take for advertising property goes into their business.
Let’s keep that commission. By working across islands, listing properties and taking bookings, we can do exactly that. More than that, we can tell our story to people who book through us. We can tell visitors what we want them to know — about our awesome communities, and our history and languages and culture, and even about the mobile signal and the passing places.
We want to put faces to places and start to change the narrative from destination first, to community first.
Visitors will have a better experience if we correctly set their expectations. Our islands are not empty wildernesses waiting to be discovered. They are full of beauty AND they contain people. They are full of heritage and history, and of present and, we hope, future. Those are gems well worth discovering.
If you own a letting property in the islands, please consider listing on isleHoliday.com. You don’t have to leave other platforms — this is simply an additional option. If you are booked up for 2022, we don’t don’t mind — 2023 isn’t far away!
If you holiday in the islands, please consider booking through isleHoliday.com.
If you can’t find something suitable (we’re just getting started) then please tell people about us. Or just share this and help us start to turn the tide.
Featured image of Harris. Credit isleHoliday.com