Airbnb hopes new cleaning guidelines will bring guests back after the pandemic

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Airbnb is pushing out a new set of cleanliness standards for hosts, developed with guidance from a former U.S. surgeon general in the Obama administration.

The Enhanced Cleaning Initiative boils down to two prevention measures, both of which are meant to provide assurance to guests and tools for hosts once shelter-in-place mandates owing to the spread of COVID-19 are lifted and travel can resume.

“We have seen signals that the COVID-19 pandemic will shape consumer needs and preferences and heard feedback from our host community that they care about and want more resources,” an Airbnb spokesperson tells Fortune. “We believe that enrolling in our Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, with guidance and resources provided by Airbnb, is the best way for hosts to show guests that they take cleanliness and sanitization seriously.”

An Airbnb offering in Beaufort, Victoria, Australia.
Courtesy of Airbnb

The first is a cleaning protocol, outlining procedures on how to clean every room in a home, with specific information on COVID-19 prevention. Coronavirus-specific guidance includes instituting a waiting period before entering the home, use of personal protective equipment (masks and gloves), and the use of disinfectants on surfaces and hand sanitizers that are approved by regulatory authorities. Guests will be able to search for Airbnb listings that subscribe to the regulations.

The second is a new feature called Booking Buffer, enabling hosts to establish a vacancy period between stays. Hosts can commit to keeping their residences empty for a set period in between stays, with no activity other than cleaning. Reservations will be automatically blocked during that time frame, currently set at 72 hours. This concept was first conceived for Airbnb’s Frontline Stays project, through which hosts have offered over 200,000 places for medical workers and first responders around the world. 

Airbnb acknowledges that the first option takes into account that some hosts may not be able to commit to certification or source necessary products. But the rental agency stresses that hosts should still observe CDC recommendations and other applicable local guidance (such as wearing a mask). 

The initiative is entirely optional, but Airbnb believes most of its hosts will comply with the policies and requirements of the program—if only to stand out among the robust guest reviews that are crucial for hosts to attract guests at any point in time.

The homestay company’s cleaning standards were informed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s published standards as well as counsel from former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy, who previously led U.S. responses to the Ebola and Zika outbreaks. “As a society, we need to observe the physical distancing recommendations made by public health officials while finding ways to preserve and strengthen human connection,” Murthy said in a statement.

Airbnb is encouraging hosts and guests to take all necessary precautions when hosting and traveling, including following official health and governmental guidance.
Courtesy of Airbnb

Airbnb’s financial health during the pandemic has been touch and go at best, with business forecasts and interviews with company executives projecting an outlook from grim to apocalyptic. The San Francisco–based company’s bottom line had already been hurting before COVID-19 struck, and while the cleaner standards protocol suggests a hint of light at the end of the tunnel, travel of any kind—business or pleasure—is not expected to rebound in 2020.

Nevertheless, Airbnb, which operates in more than 220 countries, says it has already seen signs of upticks, including increases in local and long-term stays. “Risk in travel can never be fully eliminated, and the knowledge around COVID-19 is still evolving,” says the company spokesperson. “We’re confident that once stay-at-home orders are lifted and it is safe to travel again, people will want to travel again, but with greater awareness for health and cleanliness considerations.”

Beyond cleanliness, Airbnb has taken other steps to protect its hosts. In March, the company’s three cofounders reportedly spoke with several members of Congress to ensure at least U.S. hosts—who often file their taxes as sole proprietors—would be eligible to apply for Small Business Administration emergency loans.

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