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How the circular economy can defend the holiday let industry

Sustainability has become a watch word for businesses the world over but there’s one element of this equation that is too often ignored — and it could be about to cost short term rental owners thousands of pounds or maybe even their business.

The Government has just announced that it will require some short-term rental owners to get planning permission in property hot spots, putting the future of tens of thousands of existing and potential small businesses in doubt. 

Why is this happening? Frankly, it’s because the industry hasn’t done enough to emphasise how valuable short-term lets are to local and rural economies. 


While environmental impacts and governance grab the lion’s share of column inches, the importance of short-term rentals to the sustainability agenda and circular economy of local communities is often overlooked. I grew up in a small rural village, there were no jobs and the houses were too expensive for me to buy. The reality then, as it is now for many rural communities, is that tourism provided the jobs. Tourism gave me my first job.

Valuable careers

The problem is, our industry is facing an onslaught of criticism from commentators who are all too quick to jump on the bandwagon and forget the benefits that the short-term rental industry brings to the UK. 

However, the short-term rental sector is not the enemy. In 2021, it contributed a huge £27.7 billion to the UK economy, directly supporting 94,000 jobs. Of those jobs, nearly 80% were in rural locations, creating valuable careers which would not otherwise have existed (Oxford Economics). 

With this in mind, it is by no means a stretch to say that short-term rentals are the economic lifeblood of many local communities. Tourism keeps pubs open in local villages, brings customers to our shops and facilities that we all benefit from. Short-term lets are a key part of tourism, they provide direct employment and much-needed investment in our rural communities and yet the popular assessment of it remains completely one-sided. So, how do we shift the narrative?

It goes without saying that when large hotel chains buy centrally and import their staff rather than hiring locally, there is a negative impact on the local community; crowding out local people and businesses and reducing support for the tourism industry as a whole. 

But this example is not representative of the vast majority of short-term lets. STRs are routinely preferred by the highest-spending guests and families and are often owned by individuals and couples who take pride in reinvesting in the local area, whether that be sourcing locally made products, using local cleaning and maintenance services or more actively promoting local attractions and activities.

Better locations

In essence, the circular economy is the reason short-term lets are really valuable to local economies — we just aren’t shouting about it enough. 

Tourism is the fastest-growing sector for UK employment, accounting for almost 12% of all jobs. VisitBritain estimates that the industry will be worth over a quarter of a trillion pounds in the next couple of years, supporting nearly 3.8million jobs. That money doesn’t just fall out of the sky. It’s the short-term rental industry that is increasingly responsible for housing these visitors, with demand for nights in short term rental properties growing much faster than supply as people turn away from hotels in favour of better locations, higher quality experiences and more spacious accommodation.

Short term lets create economic opportunities, particularly in rural communities, that would be very limited, or even non-existent, without them. By working together with local stakeholders, the industry can actually enhance the overall well-being of these communities.

Plenty of hosts and property managers are already doing this but a failure to explain this properly in their local area means they’re not getting enough credit for it. We’re now seeing that complacency create problems at a government level, with politicians showing an increasing willingness to act on perceived negatives by erecting barriers in an industry that thrives on flexibility — for both small business owners and customers.

While the industry faces the possibility of being laden with unnecessary red tape, it should be championing the circular economy, something many of us are already quietly doing. But it can’t just be done — it has to be seen to be done. 


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