THE price of doing comedy during the Edinburgh Festival is no laughing matter.

As highlighted by comedian Jason Manford and Scots TV personality Gail Porter earlier this week, the costs of accommodation in Scotland’s capital during August have become prohibitively expensive.

Unless performers are willing to endure three weeks in the shared bedrooms of a hostel, they’re looking at bills easily in excess of £2000 for a single bedroom in an Airbnb or a hotel room.

“My worry is how are we getting to see new performers and hearing new voices if the only people who can do it are people with money or backing!” said Manford (below).

“It’s pure greed!”

The National: Jason Manford

The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) were quick to pile blame on the introduction of short-term let licencing in Scotland last year, which requires operators to display energy performance ratings on their listings, have adequate insurance coverage, and ensure their property complies with fire and gas safety precautions before being granted a licence.

“This is a predictable mess,” said Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the ASSC.

“We consistently highlighted the dire consequences that would follow from a draconian approach to short-term let regulation, and these forewarnings are becoming glaringly apparent.

“However, this may be the tip of the iceberg if yet more self-catering businesses close, with the difficulties faced this year being amplified in 2025.

“Edinburgh is renowned for its unique cultural offering but such bungled policymaking over short-term lets risks damaging its position as a place to visit and do business.

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“A world-leading festival city should be more than able to accommodate comedians, yet it risks becoming a laughing stock of its own making.”

But complaints about the sky-high cost of accommodation during the Edinburgh Festival are not a new phenomenon.

In fact, they significantly pre-date the introduction of a short-term let licencing scheme in the city, which has been in place for just over six months.

Tenants’ union Living Rent told the Sunday National that while licencing has had an intended impact on short-term accommodation in the city, there was nothing stopping landlords from charging affordable prices during the festival.

“Since licencing was introduced, we’ve seen lots of flats go up for sale, which is fantastic for first-time buyers,” said Eilidh Keay, the chair of Living Rent Edinburgh. 

The National: Edinburgh Fringe Festival

“We’ve also seen some plots return to the private sector, which is really important, particularly in terms of lowering rent prices.

“But the price of accommodation during the festival is being used as an excuse for short-term let landlords to try and undermine the licencing scheme. This has been a historic problem of the festival. It’s nothing new.

“We’re at this point now because people are seeking to profit as much as they can. Landlords don’t have to set their rent at £5000 a month but they choose to because they know that’s how much money they can make.”

Profiteering from the festival is, for the most part, neither illegal nor new. But it’s also not something that serves performers or audiences.

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William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of the Assembly Festival, said tweaking short-term let licencing laws to allow students to rent out their rooms without the need for a licence would help significantly.

“Making it affordable for people to bring shows to the festival is really, really hard,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it appears as if short-term let legislation and the way it has been interpreted has had the effect of pushing up costs for everybody, whether it’s throughout the year or just during the festival.

“It’s a real challenge as to how we make Edinburgh affordable for people to visit. Hotel prices are terrifying at the moment.

“Thankfully, the University of Edinburgh allows us to take over a few university buildings for the festival, which means we can offer accommodation for our performers at a reasonable price per night.

The National:

“There were once days where there was reasonable and affordable accommodation during the festival, principally from the student rental market.

“I do believe the council are looking into allowing students to let their rooms during the festival without having to go through the whole licencing process because right now it’s really difficult for people to navigate that.

“But I appreciate the position that they’re in. Getting a balance between ensuring there’s accommodation throughout the year and addressing the cost and shortage of accommodation during the festival. It’s tricky.”

However, Keay added that there needed to be serious reflection about how the festival operates on a systemic level.

“The problem is the model,” she said.

“It’s this idea that we can continue to grow the festival every year and increase profits without consideration of the communities that actually make the event possible and meaningful.

“So, that’s people who live in Edinburgh and work for the festival or working-class performers who need it to help kickstart their careers.

“There’s a need for some balance to be brought into the mix because at the moment, the tourism industry in the city only seeks to benefit those who already profit from it. It’s not benefitting everyone in Edinburgh.

“That’s why Living Rent is calling for the some of the tourist tax - if implemented - to go back into social and council housing, which is really important for people who work in the tourism industry on minimum wage to be able to afford to live in the city”.

In theory, it should be perfectly possible for a city to affordably accommodate its permanent residents as well as host thousands of temporary ones during the summer.

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However, leaving it up to the market to control is not satisfying to either residents or visitors. There has to be a long-term strategic vision from the council.

“We need to get the balance right,” said Edinburgh City Council leader Cammy Day (below).

“This is the world’s greatest collection of arts festivals we are talking about and of course that comes with exceptional demand for accommodation in the month of August.

“The truth is, accommodation providers have always exploited that demand. But we also need to look to the needs of our residents, in an often-expensive city, with a growing population who need a place to call home.

“We’re seeing new hotels open all the time which expands the accommodation options Edinburgh has to offer. In recent decades, accommodation costs have steadily increased and that’s with Edinburgh boasting more hotel and B&B options than ever before.

The National: Edinburgh council leader Cammy Day Image: Gordon Terris

“We have no local powers to suspend the need for short-term let licensing during the festivals. That would sit with the Government.

“We have, however, raised concerns about the unintended consequences of home-sharing and letting being included in the legislation and I recently met with the Housing Minister at his request. He has offered to provide further guidance around the legislation, and the council will need to consider this.

“In the meantime, we are urgently looking at ways of ensuring this important source of accommodation is made as straightforward as possible, including the fee regime, and this will be for the council to consider at a forthcoming committee.”