• According to experts, Airbnb can be safer than hotels during the novel coronavirus because private vacation rentals eliminate most in-person interactions.
  • However, travelers might have continued concerns about safety considering everything from kitchen utensils to bed linens were used by previous guests.
  • In response, Airbnb rolled out the Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, which is now available for guests to review when booking a home.
  • Here's how to identify Airbnb listings that adhere (or don't) to the new standards, plus extra precautions that can help avoid mitigate risk.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider South Africa.

In response to the global pandemic, hospitality businesses of all kinds scrambled to initiate and publicise new cleaning policies that could reassure — and lure — would-be travelers. 

For the popular home rental platform Airbnb, that meant an expansive, multi-tier Enhanced Cleaning Initiative that overhauled host cleaning protocols, and promised to make participating listings easily searchable and transparent for concerned travelers.

The new policies should help quell the fears of on-the-fence travellers, who may book easier knowing that infectious disease experts generally consider private home rentals such as Airbnb to be a safe bet (safer than hotels, in fact). This is because, in a private vacation rental, there is generally less direct person-to-person contact if you are booking the entire home. Reducing person-to-person interactions is key to reducing risk since the virus is known to spread by people, via respiratory droplets.

Additionally, the World Travel and Tourism Council released new cleaning standards to aid and encourage the reopening of the sector and gave Airbnb its stamp of approval for meeting their guidelines.

Keep in mind that without a vaccine, there is no guarantee of safety and we always recommend following guidelines from the CDC and WHO, as well as local and state policies. You should also assess your own level of risk before booking, and consider whether you're traveling from or to a hotspot, so as not to increase the rate of infection.

However, if you are looking to make future travel plans, considering a vacation rental is a wise option, especially if it can deliver enhanced cleaning measures. We broke down Airbnb's new policies to help identify whether a property participates in the new cleaning initiative, and also share extra precautions you can take for your own added safety and peace of mind.

Table of Contents

What are Airbnb's new cleaning policies?

Airbnb's new cleaning policy, known as Airbnb Enhanced Clean, includes multiple prongs that travellers should be able to differentiate. 

Specifically, Airbnb hosts now have three choices when listing their homes under the new initiative, which is informed by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and was created in collaboration with former US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and other health and hospitality experts.

The first option is the most stringent, in which hosts enroll and participate in a learning and certification program known as the Cleaning Protocol.

The Cleaning Protocol mandates guidelines for hosts such as the use of personal protective equipment including masks and gloves for hosts or cleaners, and also requires the exclusive use of disinfectants that have been approved by regulatory authorities.

Hosts who participate in this programme are required to maintain a 24-waiting period after a guest checks out before entering to clean a listing. A property may not be flipped and offered to a new guest with a reservation on the same day that the previous guest checked out. This is meant as a way to ensure any airborne particles have settled out of the air, although experts believe this happens within a few hours or much less. 

The next option for hosts is a program called Booking Buffer, which is less rigorous on the cleaning side but requires a longer time buffer between guests. Hosts not enrolling in the Cleaning Protocol, because they can't or won't adapt to its stringent requirements, may instead opt into this tier that enforces a longer vacancy period between stays. Reservations will be automatically blocked during that timeframe, which is currently set at 72 hours. With Booking Buffer, listings must still remain vacant for 24 hours after a guest leaves before a cleaning team or host can enter, and then another 48 hours must pass before a new guest's arrival.

Finally, as a third option, hosts can opt to participate in neither of these new standards and instead continue their existing procedures. Their listings will reflect that choice.

How do I know if an Airbnb listing participates in the new cleaning policies?

Hosts can enroll in the Enhanced Clean programme for their listings through their accounts.

There, they'll have to review the guidelines, complete a quiz, and agree to an attestation. Then, their listings will populate with a tag that says "Enhanced Clean" to identify the distinction.

So far, most hosts participating in the new programs have opted into Enhanced Clean, with fewer choosing to enroll in Booking Buffer, according to Airbnb.

At this time, there isn't a way for travellers to filter a search to include only listings with particular badges. Instead, when would-be travelers pull up a potentially interesting listing, the host's participation — or not — in the program will be identifiable by way of a clear label up top.

Each badge identifies the listing's enrolled program, "Enhanced Clean" or "72-hour minimum between reservations" to indicate the Booking Buffer.

If a host has chosen not to participate in either programme, no badge will appear on the listing.

So, if you only want to stay in a participating home, make sure to check the section that appears at the top of the listing.

What are Airbnb's cleaning fees?

If you're typically a hotel-style traveller with a new interest in Airbnb during the pandemic, you might be surprised by the price when it comes time to finalize your booking.

That's because, unlike hotels, Airbnbs charge a separate cleaning fee and it can be quite steep. Cleaning fees are not set at any certain price. In fact, hosts determine their own cleaning fees. "Cleaning fees are entirely up to the hosts and they vary widely," according to an Airbnb spokesperson. 

Cleaning fees are also combined with other charges beyond the nightly rate, such as booking fees, service fees, and taxes. These add-ons can easily tack hundreds of dollars onto an otherwise seemingly affordable nightly price.

For reference, the service fee is typically under 14.2 percent of the booking subtotal — that's the nightly rate plus cleaning fee and additional guest fee (if applicable), but excluding Airbnb fees and taxes. This fee varies, but platform users will see it itemised before making their purchase.

What extra precautions should I take when traveling?

It's likely that the novel coronavirus is here to stay into the foreseeable future. So even if you weren't a typical booker of Airbnb rentals, you might find yourself choosing this relatively safer style of lodging as you factor the pandemic into your plans. In which case, you'll want to get used to some additional practices for added safety and peace of mind.

Experts say that while there is low risk from virus transmission through inanimate objects, you can resolve any lingering concerns with spot cleaning upon arrival.

"If you want to be safe, run utensils and dishware through the dishwasher when you get there and that should take care of that," says Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo. You can do this as well for laundering bed linens and towels, "so you have control of what you want to be washed and cleaned." 

Focus, he says, on disinfecting flat surfaces, such as running a Clorox wipe over kitchen countertops. You might also spot disinfect high-touch surfaces such as phones, TV remotes, door handles, bathroom faucets, and toilet handles, he adds.

But even with this professional reassurance from the medical community and the additional spot cleaning on arrival, you might not enjoy your stay in a rented home if you still feel … icky.

If that's the case, consider packing and bringing some of the more intimate items needed for your stay from home, such as bedsheets and pillows.

Of course, that also means you're now cleaning and stocking the home for which you already paid lofty cleaning and service fees.

Then again, easy sleeping easy on vacation is pretty priceless.

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