Home Money How Airbnb swallowed Whitstable. As we revealed, there are 555 holiday lets compared to just eight flats to rent in the small fishing village, how angry locals are being driven out and the High Street and fishing industry decimated.

How Airbnb swallowed Whitstable. As we revealed, there are 555 holiday lets compared to just eight flats to rent in the small fishing village, how angry locals are being driven out and the High Street and fishing industry decimated.

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Airbnbs in Whitstable are starting to outnumber available residential properties

The seaside town of Whitstable has never been prettier, at least from the outside.

The drab Victorian terraces that once housed local fishermen have been spruced up with a fresh coat of paint, luxurious glossy coats of Farrow & Ball olive, as well as duck egg blue, pink and yellow on the entrance doors.

No longer just street numbers, the houses now have plaques with names like Anchor, Sardine and Lobster Cottage.

There is also a lockbox the size of a large matchbox fixed to the outside of each entrance door with keys accessed by touching a four-digit code.

Resident Peggy Harper, 78, shakes her head as she looks across Waterloo Road at these houses behind High Street.

The retirement home manager says, “Those safe deposit boxes indicate a vacation rental.”

Airbnbs in Whitstable are starting to outnumber available residential properties

‘The strangers come and take over all our houses to rent to other strangers for a holiday, and they leave the keys in these boxes for them to collect.

‘It is fueled by greed. Sadly, this is driving locals out of this lovely town.”

These observations are backed up by clear facts: 555 holiday rentals in the city are listed on the online platform Airbnb, but only eight long-term home rentals are available, according to Rightmove.

Having lived in Whitstable for 40 years, Peggy is proud of the community she shares as a volunteer at the Waterloo Centre, which provides a place for the dwindling number of locals to meet and chat over a cup of tea.

A sign hangs on the door that says “All Welcome.” Friend and fellow volunteer Jan Marshall is concerned about how a wave of ‘Down From London’ (DFL) investors in recent years has been pushing long-term renting and buying residents out of the city.

Home prices have almost tripled in a decade as demand has soared as investors snapped up properties to rent to tourists.

The 69-year-old retired store manager says: ‘I bought a two-bedroom cottage around the corner for £137,000 a decade ago.

‘Now, with increased demand caused by a flood of outside money, my house is worth around £400,000.

Unfortunately, this means that the premises are priced out of the market. Even buying basic foodstuffs is becoming too expensive, as tourists want more sophisticated products and meals that cost much more.’

The city of 30,000 people is held together by a labyrinth of side alleys, each with its own story to tell.

A few feet away is Squeeze Gut Alley, apparently named after a route where kids would hide from an overweight cop.

Another nearby street lined with holiday homes is Cushing’s Walk, close to where actor Peter Cushing, who starred in Hammer studio horror films, lived.

Others, Albert Street and Gladstone Road, nod to the Victorian era when tourists first arrived.

Whitstable was put on the tourist map by Julius Caesar when he invaded in 55 and 54 BC. Falling in love with the ‘native Royal Whitstable Oyster’ that thrived in its plankton-rich waters, he sent buckets full of fresh water back to Rome.

But it wasn’t until the late 18th century that word spread among London’s upper classes, who made the trip not only to try the oysters, but also because it allowed women to try out the new bath machines.

Lock boxes on cottage doors in Whitstable indicate their use as Airbnb properties

Lock boxes on cottage doors in Whitstable indicate their use as Airbnb properties

These began to be worn to the beach in the 1760s as a healthy way to bathe, away from onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of a bare ankle.

Now, amid a new wave of gentrification, this once-thriving fishing port and tourist spot faces a bleak future, where after the bustle of tourists in the summer it becomes a ghost town in the winter when they disappear. .

There are more than two dozen fishermen’s cabins facing the port.

Many of them have already been converted into holiday lets, charging between £75 and £200 or more per night for an “authentic” experience, typically sleeping four people.

Alternatively, you can opt for a two-bedroom cabin on Airbnb which typically costs £1,000 for four nights, including cleaning and servicing fees.

Cooper’s Catch is the only authentic fishing shack open on the sunny afternoon of our visit. It is run by Roger Cooper, 77, and his sons Ben, 45, and Robert, 38.

They went out fishing for snails at 2 in the morning and returned 11 hours later, having bagged 14 bags of 30 kg each.

Roger estimates this loot is worth £580 (before costs are subtracted).

He believes they could make more money renting a fancy Airbnb without even getting out of bed, but he prefers to support the community with a seafaring lifestyle started by his grandfather in the 1860s.

Fishermen can only catch local native oysters between September and April, selling them for 85p each.

At other times, tourists import Rock Oysters from places like Jersey.

Ben says: ‘Wonderful little holiday lets are taking over the city as industries like ours struggle to survive.

‘I used to rent my house here, but my wife and I bought a starter home with two floors up and two floors down in nearby Faversham for £140,000 in 2010.

‘Then five years later we bought a four-bedroom house for £220,000 as we had three children at the time.

‘If I were a first-time buyer now, I wouldn’t be able to buy in and around Whitstable.

“Unfortunately, locals have been forced to leave the town and this means it is difficult to find people to work here.”

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A four-bedroom semi-detached Victorian family home in Whitstable costs around £700,000, while you can pay £1.3 million for a similarly sized detached property with beach views.

Above the port stands a gigantic aggregate factory, nicknamed “the cockle dredge”, which collects aggregate from the seabed and turns it into sand and gravel to pave the roads.

In stark contrast, just in front of this fenced industrial building, sits an upscale Lobster Shack restaurant with blue and white striped lounge chairs out front and within the chatter of the DFL crowd.

Here, locals serve tourists lobster thermidor for £59.50, which pairs well with a £150 bottle of Moet & Chandon Rose champagne.

The tension of the tourist takeover is also felt on the High Street.

Banks have disappeared because visitors prefer to spend by shaking their plastic instead of using bills and coins.

The closed NatWest is now a 24-hour restaurant and cocktail bar, while Lloyds Bank remains closed following its closure last year.

George’s Whitstable Stores, across the road, was founded in 1969 by the grandfather of the current owner, Lucy Eason, 42.

The cheerful married mother of two is eager to adapt to the changes in the city, but admits that the arrival of national chains such as Costa Coffee a couple of doors away to cater to the needs of tourists and others is driving up rents. because have deeper pockets.

This makes it difficult for traditional stores like yours to survive.

She says: “We love this community, but now we must diversify to survive, such as offering basic DIY items for locals in the back of the store and putting more sophisticated products in the front window to attract the new generation of tourists, like a £39 metal octopus wine holder.

Our £4 crab nets are still one of the best sellers… for now.’

Delia Fitt, 81, owner of the pink-fronted Wheelers Oyster Bar, with a picture of a tray of oysters on the outside wall, wants to display photographs from Whitstable’s proud bygone era.

This includes images of the world’s first steam passenger train service from the port to Canterbury, opening in 1830.

Known as the Crab and Winkle line, it closed in 1951.

Whitstable is also the birthplace of deep sea diving.

Brothers Charles and John Deane developed a firefighting idea using a firefighter’s helmet and attached hose to create a diving helmet in 1829.

Delia says: ‘Traditionally, Whitstable was a working town that thrived on innovation, but now tourists have discovered us. We are victims of our own success: trains and roads connect us to London and the journey takes just over an hour.

‘Once word spread about our wonderful seafood, there was no stopping the tourists.

But there are concerns that money made from vacation rentals could be pocketed by outsiders and not invested in the city. We need strict new rules requiring more long-term rentals.’

Wheelers’ takeaway menu, which includes boats of cockles for £5, dressed crab for £7 and a dozen ‘Rocky’ oysters for £23, offers surprisingly good value for money.

However, Delia fears that the influx of tourists and the invasion of holiday homes and Airbnbs will only continue to drive up prices, putting her famous seafood out of reach of locals.

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