My sleep was broken yesterday by someone calling out and banging on the door. “Housekeeping!” I was confused. Am I in a hotel? They called out again. No, this is my own bed. I shuffle to the front door and look through the spyhole - at four people and their cleaning kits entering the flat opposite. I realise it wasn’t me they were calling on, it just sounded like it. This scenario is one of the unforeseen repercussions of living in a flat near the beach. The lease says no short lets. The owners say bugger that. Except that I don’t want to let this flat, I just want to live in it.
I’ve been trying not to let my resentment choke me, but the seven-day Airbnb turnover breathes heavily down my neck, and being in our brand new home has turned out to be no joy. There’s a constant flow of families arriving and departing; strangers milling around the car park; fire doors pinned back to allow suitcases through but then forgotten; communal bins overloaded with picnic and takeaway detritus; groups of smokers mooching around our front yard and looking over (absently-mindedly, but still intrusively) into our lounge. And don’t get me started on the screaming kids, whooping it up in the stairwells because they are, after all, on vacation.
There must be many hundreds, maybe thousands of other people like me, who feel they’ve inadvertently moved into a Butlins chalet block where every day brings fun for the many, purgatory for the few. Ten years after launch, Airbnb is less a room rental for the traveller seeking authentic local life, and more a Buy To Let business proposition in which an entire property is available to hire. But how fair is the system on the rest of us? Is everyone who rents out their space assiduously paying tax on their income? Do they follow the same safety, security and noise regulations as hotels and bed & breakfast premises? Who is policing this bindweed industry as it strangles small, authorised businesses who can’t avoid the fees to councils, H & S inspectors and HMRC, but whose nightly rates are seriously undermined by those renting out privately?
Actually, the UK government appears to be pig-poo-happy about the rapid growth of Airbnb: in 2016 it set up a £7.5K Rent-A-Room tax relief threshold for those in the marketplace. Perhaps some of those returns should be channelled into reducing the impact on the non-Airbnb community who suffer the consequences of a fragmenting tourist trade. Anyone who has to put up with the daily check-out/check-in routine of slammed doors and parental yelling followed by stomping and hoovering, a single hour of peace and then - a new round of slammed doors and parental yelling…deserves some reward.
We’re providing the ‘community’ that visitors supposedly want to be part of during their stay. For the local area, we are the heavy ballast below the loose shingle of short stays. We are, without intending to be, on constant alert and never sure who are our neighbours and who are just chancers. I was clearly naïve to think that few tourists would notice our sleepy, non-attractions bay when there’s a smacking great rollercoaster of a seaside at the next one along. Perhaps they stay here for the tranquillity and walk to Margate for some action. For us perennials, living at a private address amongst the public ones of Airbnb-ers is to exist in a leisure thoroughfare, stripped of the usual calmness and permanence of what ‘home’ should be. Hold on, is that a tannoy being attached to the roof…what’s a 'Gang Show'?