Threats and opportunity from Airbnb accommodation website on Norfolk tourism

Holidaymakers enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures at Overstrand beach. From left, Kassy Dign

Holidaymakers enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures at Overstrand beach. From left, Kassy Dignam, Louise Meech, Emma Imram, and Rebecca Williams. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

From bell tents and garden sheds to spare rooms and whole houses - these are just some of the options open to holidaymakers in Norfolk through Airbnb. Reporter SOPHIE WYLLIE looks at how the accommodation website has impacted on tourism in the region.

Norfolk Country Cottages director Tom Ellis. Picture: Noroflk Country Cottages

Norfolk Country Cottages director Tom Ellis. Picture: Noroflk Country Cottages - Credit: Archant

Tourism is a vital aspect to Norfolk's economy bringing in £3bn each year.

James Player from The Blakeney Cottage Company. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

James Player from The Blakeney Cottage Company. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

But alongside the traditional forms of accommodation on offer in the county, more options are becoming available by Airbnb.

Vanessa Scott of Stratton's Hotel in Swaffham. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Vanessa Scott of Stratton's Hotel in Swaffham. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Formed in 2008, the online marketplace allows 'hosts' to list their homes for rent.

According to Airbnb's first UK Insights Report – looking at the number of people who used the service from July 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017, in the East of England – Airbnb hosts and guests generated £113m.

As well as hosting individual rooms and houses, the international online marketplace is starting to work with businesses including holiday cottage companies, hotels and glamping sites, as its popularity increases.

One of the companies which manages a number of cottages advertised on Airbnb is Norfolk Country Cottages. Company director Tom Ellis said Airbnb was 'starting to make an impact' on the region's tourism industry.

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But he said his 25-year-old firm had experienced its 'biggest year'.

Mr Ellis added: 'Airbnb is still city dominant but it is trying to push out. We are putting a few of our properties on Airbnb. We see it as another marketing channel. Airbnb is trying to work with more property management companies... 90pc of our custom comes to us direct.

He said: 'It is early days. While there are threats there are opportunities, I think Airbnb could be a threat to small companies or individual owners but we are confident that we provide owners and holidaymakers that trust factor. I know people that have used Airbnb and had a bad experience and have not used it again.'

The company director was interested in how Airbnb would tackle regulation issues in the future.

'Over many years we have built up a lot of processes that protect holidaymakers,' Mr Ellis added.

Blakeney Cottage Company, which rents out 145 properties, has taken on six holiday rentals which were previously on Airbnb in the last 18 months.

It advertises two of its fully-managed properties through Airbnb.

James Player, Blakeney Cottage Company director, said: 'Our growth is better than ever.'

He believed that the firm was benefitting from Airbnb as it was 'planting a seed' in people's heads that self-catering was as good as hotels.

Mr Player added: 'With city breaks, Airbnb is taking over but in rural areas people like the local touch.' Kayla Dunne, Visit North Norfolk brand manager, said north Norfolk accommodation businesses had experienced a busy year.

She said: 'It's positive to be able to offer more choice of places to stay to visitors to the area. As north Norfolk's visitor economy continues to expand, and Airbnb accommodation providers see the benefit from this, we would like to see increased collaboration with the common goal in mind, of growing an all-year round destination.'

Nick Bond, head of tourism at Visit Norwich, said: 'There are potentially concerns over maintaining quality for people using Airbnb. There are concerns within the traditional lodging sector and even hotels. Part of that is with the impact of Airbnb and a change of consumer habits in terms of shorter break times.'

But he added: 'There is a distinct benefit for consumer choice.'

Vanessa Scott, owner of Strattons Hotel in Swaffham, said it was 'frustrating' when second home owners in rural areas who rented rooms through Airbnb did not have to pay the expenses that hotel owners had to pay.

The Airbnb UK Insights Report added that between that July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, there were 7,100 listings of rooms or properties in the East of England which attracted 213,000 guests – amounting to a yearly growth of 103pc.

The company did not want to comment officially but its own literature said more than 260 million people used Airbnb and negative experiences were extremely rare.

Being a host was a 'big responsibility' and those who failed to meet certain standards could be suspended or removed from the Airbnb community.

Glamping boss positive about Airbnb

A glamping entrepreneur who uses Airbnb has praised the honesty of the business.

Amber Wykes, 43, from Corpusty, who started Amber's Bell Tent Camping in 2012, now advertises three of her tents on Airbnb.

She said: 'People seem to like booking through Airbnb.'

The business started on the grounds of Mannington Hall in north Norfolk with two tents. It now has 10 on the site.

It expanded to Wiveton Hall in 2016 and will open some tents in Hoveton, next to the BeWILDerwood site in 2018.

Mrs Wykes said: 'Through Airbnb you are not buying off a middle man. There are also tonnes of reviews. People like the honesty and know what they are getting. They are in direct contact with the host.

'People feel they are finding little gems.

'It also gives small businesses the chance to use that platform. Airbnb has opened up small businesses to international customers.'

Airbnb holidaymaker's viewpoint

Hayley Johnston, 24, from Norwich, who is a wholesale assistant for Lisa Angel Ltd, explains why she uses Airbnb.

'I have used Airbnb a few times and I am planning on using it a lot when my fiancé and I go to America on our honeymoon.

'I like to use it because it tends to work out cheaper than a hotel and for it me it feels like you get more of a feel for where you are staying, living in someone else's apartment and self-catering. I much prefer that.

'I have stayed in Manchester and London so far, one was a room and the other was the whole apartment (it was amazing).

'I have stayed in many hotels in the past, and will continue to do so, particularly when I want something a bit 'fancier', shall we say.

'But, I will now always consider Airbnb as an option too.'