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Community / Airbnb alternative aims to put something back into island communities

Rhoda Meek is the brains behind IsleHoliday.

A NEW website has been set up to give holiday accommodation providers in the Scottish islands an alternative to Airbnb – with the surplus income made by its operator due to go to small businesses and housing projects.

IsleHoliday has been set up by Tiree-based Rhoda Meek, who was also the driving force behind an online directory and shop which now sells more than 4,000 products from businesses in the Scottish islands.

For every booking taken, IsleHoliday will charge commission – and all surplus is due to go into an ‘Isle Develop’ fund.

It is set to launch in the coming weeks, and Shetland-based accommodation providers are encouraged to register their interest.

A key focus for the venture is ensuring that the Scottish islands “remain a great place to live and work as well as a great place to visit”.

The availability of affordable property in the islands – including Shetland – has been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic, with an increase in demand in the property market.

When asked if IsleHoliday may in effect encourage more homes in the islands to become short-term rentals rather than permanent residences, Meek said in theory it could.

But with the short-term let sector showing no signs of abating, Meek is keen to do what she can to make the system better for island communities.

“This is not a solution by any means, but the commission is there and rather than it going elsewhere it is far better that it is used to the benefit of the communities who are affected,” she said.

“We have to start somewhere. I am happy to walk that line. We can’t change the law overnight and we can’t force people to sell.”

Meek said the short-term letting model is “rife with complexity – both logistical and emotional’.

“But there is a way to ensure that more of the benefit stays in the islands,” she added.

“So we propose harnessing it to make things a bit more hopeful – and to make sure the issue remains top of mind in government at both national and local level.

“If we end up with fewer houses listed because they have gone back into long-term rental or sold to permanent residents, we’ll be delighted.”

The standard commission IsleHoliday will take is 12 per cent, although it reduces to 10 per cent for island residents.

Income will also support two island-based jobs at Meek’s Isle Develop CIC social enterprise.

When it comes to distributing the surplus, Meek said it is not yet clear how this will work in reality, but the desire is to focus on housing projects as well as helping micro businesses with equipment to make them more sustainable.

“It might be that we make enough to help island groups fund housing surveys and campaigns,” she said.

“If people get behind us, we could be looking at being able to help communities fund posts for housing project workers in their communities.

“The dream would be to have the capital to enter into co-ownership of properties – either existing or new.”

Meek initially started with her islands business directory Isle20 at the start of the pandemic.

But “because I can’t seem to stop having ideas” she was keen for it to become one of multiple projects under a social enterprise.

The islands’ “housing crisis” often came up in discussions about how to expand the social enterprise.

“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 to the benefit of the community,” she said.

“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 […] 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 I snapped and decided that if you can’t beat the system, join it and find a way to make it work better.”