Travel websites are continuing to advertise hundreds of holiday rentals in the north-east – despite strict travel restrictions designed to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Enhanced measures were introduced in December, effectively placing the whole of Scotland into lockdown.
Some travel is still allowed for essential reasons, such as work which cannot be done from home.
But the Evening Express was able to make reservations to stay at properties in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire through three major sites – AirBnB, Tripadvisor and Booking.com – without having to prove the trip was for essential reasons.
AirBnB, which specialises in short-term lets, said visitors had to confirm their trip was for essential reasons specified by the Scottish Government before booking.
However, when the Evening Express attempted to make a reservation, we found this only involved ticking a box on the site with no further checks carried out.
At the time of going to print, the platform was advertising more than 500 places to stay in the north-east.
A spokesman for AirBnB said: “There are lockdowns in place across Scotland and stays on Airbnb are only available in limited circumstances, in line with government guidance.
“This is made clear on our website, which restricts bookings to these legal exemptions.”
Meanwhile Tripadvisor, which is better-known for giving tourists the ability to review accommodation and attractions but also offers the option to book stays, said it had handed responsibility for approving reservations to property owners.
A total of 114 places to stay were available through the site.
A spokeswoman said: “Tripadvisor has a dedicated Covid-19 resource centre which houses advice for both our business partners and traveller community, and we also have informative Covid-19 banners across the site. We further advise all travellers to check with local authorities before planning their trips.
“Near the beginning of the pandemic, we deactivated the ability for travellers to make ‘instant bookings’, so that all booking requests had to be approved by property owners, unless those owners turned this function back on themselves. Therefore, this gives owners more control over their decision to accept a booking or not.
“Lastly, due to the speed at which restrictions are changing globally, nationally and even regionally each day, we believe it is important that travellers and homeowners take steps to ensure they are familiar with the latest government restrictions and guidelines.”
On Booking.com, the site featured a banner at the top of the page with a warning to “check for travel restrictions”, adding it “might only be permitted for certain purposes”.
However, there were no checks at all carried out at the point of booking.
There were 88 properties available on Booking.com at the time of going to print.
A spokeswoman said: “During this rapidly evolving time, Booking.com is committed to featuring information across its site reiterating to customers that there are currently travel restrictions to consider in many destinations.
“We have also set up tools to make it easier for accommodations to provide clear information to guests about what national and local measures mean and to indicate any conditions that may apply, including requiring proof of essential travel where relevant.
“We continue to monitor the current situation closely and the ways in which governments around the world are imposing (and also lifting) travel restrictions, working with our global partners on the information they provide customers while adhering to their own government guidance and any valid customer exceptions to bookings.
“As the situation evolves, we continue to update the support we provide, with teams working around the clock to help support those impacted.”
All three travel firms have now been urged to tighten up the measures in place to prevent non-essential travel.
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie said: “The vast majority of people are following the rules and this is a particularly crucial point to be mindful of non-essential travel.
“At a time when so much of normal life has been curtailed, bookings have to be absolutely clear on the regulations.
“There is still a need for accommodation for essential workers, but that concept should be underlined.
“Recreational lets should be taking advantage of the UK and Scottish government support on offer.”
Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin added: “Additional checks should absolutely be put in place by these companies.
“We are almost one year into strict travel restrictions – a measure taken to protect the public and the NHS – and it is clear that no one should be making any non-essential trips or booking short-term lets.
“Companies should not be choosing profit over public health and safety.”