blog | 10.11.2021 | Nick Bailey

Smoke and mirrors: studying Glasgow’s Airbnb market during COP26

With 30,000 official delegates plus many more attending fringe events, COP26 has put enormous pressure on tourist accommodation in Glasgow.

Employees of fossil fuel companies seem to have had little difficulty finding space – there are more of them attending than there are from any national delegation. But it has led to concerns that those from lower income countries and non-governmental organisations are being priced out, denying critical groups a voice and risking making this COP “the most exclusionary ever”.

Companies like Airbnb portray short-term lets as part of the solution here, as well as an opportunity for local people to earn additional income. But the sector remains frustratingly difficult to study as little or no data is published by the companies themselves. UBDC has sought to shed light on this by collecting data on Airbnb activities. Even then, we are hindered by the setup of the website which appears intentionally designed to obscure activity.

For example, we have records of the listings on the site each day during 2021. On each day, we can look at the availability they show for the year ahead. We can therefore look at listings showing availability during COP and, for comparison, the following two weeks.

As we would expect, availability during COP has been well below that for the following two weeks since the start of the year, with the gap growing month by month. By September, only around 1-in-3 listings in Glasgow had availability during the COP fortnight. However, we can’t say for certain whether properties have been booked or made unavailable for other reasons. With COP, it is most likely this reflects bookings but with more normal market conditions, we simply can’t tell.

Chart showing proportion of listings with availability for COP and following two weeks by date of listing

Figure 1: Proportion of listings with availability for COP and following two weeks by date of listing - Glasgow

We can get some indication of demand from rents but again, the picture is obscured since these are only for listings that are still available, i.e. not those booked. So we can see how average rents for the COP fortnight are well above those for the following two weeks. And we can see that this gap grows markedly as the date of the event approaches. By October, the median rent for a COP booking was about three times that for the period following.

Chart showing Mean rents for available Airbnb listings by date of listing in Glasgow

Figure 2: Mean rents for available Airbnb listings by date of listing - Glasgow 

Chart showing median rents for available Airbnb listings by date of listing in Glasgow

Figure 3: Median rents for available Airbnb listings by date of listing - Glasgow

What we don’t see here is the rents for the booked properties. Does the rent for available properties in October reflect the levels being paid across the market and hence the inflation in prices for COP? Or are these properties just the ones which are most over-priced and so most likely to remain available?

With a bit more time and effort, we’ll be able to make a reasonable estimate of prices paid by looking at the last listing for a property when it was marked ‘available’. But you can’t help thinking it shouldn’t be this difficult to get basic data on this sector.

Project Team

Research team: Dr Mark Livingston; Dr Yang Wang; Dr David McArthur; Professor Nick Bailey

Data science team: Nikos Ves; Dr Andrew McHugh

Nick Bailey

Nick Bailey is Director of the Centre. He is a Professor in Urban Studies, based in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow.

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