Hotel vs. Airbnb: Which One is Safer After Lockdown Ends?

Before booking your next getaway, read up on the new health and safety protocols adopted by hotels and Airbnbs.

Hotel vs. Airbnb: Which One is Safer After Lockdown Ends?
© Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

By Brooke Nelson, Reader's Digest

Stuck at home, but already dreaming of your next vacation? When it's time to travel again, your next trip may look a lot different from the last time you packed your bags. Not only are many airlines adopting new air travel rules, but hotels and other rental services like Airbnb are also updating its cleaning measures for a post-coronavirus world. "The future of travel may look different, but a safe, secure stay is fundamental to deliver true hospitality—and that will never change," Keith Barr, CEO of IHG, the parent company of Kimpton, Regent, Holiday Inn, and more, said in a press release.

As stay-at-home measures begin to lift, traveling out of town might present a new dilemma: Is it safer to stay at a hotel, where official cleaning procedures are in place, or an Airbnb, where fewer people will share your space? Experts weigh the pros and cons of each lodging option, as well as suggest precautions to take before and during your stay. By the way, traveling isn't the only everyday habit that could (and should) change post-coronavirus.

What are the cleaning policies at hotels?

When it comes to hygiene, "I do think hotels may have a near-term advantage," Henry Harteveldt, a lodging industry analyst and the founder of Atmosphere Research Group, told the New York Times. National hotel chains have consulted with medical experts to improve its official health and safety procedures, and these policies will be uniformly implemented at properties across the country as lockdowns ease.

Most hotel chains have committed to measures such as deep cleaning properties with medical-grade chemicals and adopting contactless check-in services. Other types of measures can vary between chains, however. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts is rolling out a new program in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Medicine, which will appoint a "hygiene officer" at each property to oversee practices such as hourly cleaning of public areas, daily room disinfecting with EPA-approved products, and contactless housekeeping and food delivery services. Four Seasons will also provide guests with complimentary kits containing masks, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes, according to a recent press release. Hyatt, for its part, is partnering with the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) to create an accreditation process for regularly evaluating the cleanliness and safety of its hotels.

IHG announced that it will work with the Cleveland Clinic to develop more stringent hygiene measures for its properties. Marriott International has also issued new cleaning standards for its hotels and plans to install hand sanitizer stations as well as electrostatic disinfectant sprayers to sanitize guest areas. Even with upgraded cleaning measures in place, you may want to scrub down these 11 dirtiest spots in hotel rooms.

What are Airbnb's cleaning policies?

Airbnb recently launched the Airbnb Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, a standardized program informed by hospitality and medical experts, such as former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy. The program gives hosts three options for listing their rentals, the first of which is a rigorous certification process called the Cleaning Protocol. To receive certification, hosts must follow practices recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as using personal protective equipment, cleaning with government-approved disinfectants, and waiting 24 hours after a guest checks out before anyone else enters.

The second option allows hosts to make a slightly smaller commitment while still abiding by CDC guidelines and protecting guests. Hosts opt in to a feature called Booking Buffer, which requires rentals to maintain a longer vacancy period between reservations. Under this program, hosts must wait 24 hours after a guest leaves before the host or cleaning team enters, and then wait another 48 hours before the next guest checks in.

Listings that follow the new protocols can be identified with certification labels, which will appear on the site in early June, an Airbnb spokesperson told Business Insider. If hosts choose not to do either of these options, their listings will still appear, but will not have any labels.

While Airbnb does not require hosts to follow its guidelines, research suggests that many hosts of short-term rentals are already stepping up their cleaning protocols. In a recent poll of rental companies by property management site Guesty, 60 percent of participants said that they were implementing more rigorous cleaning procedures in response to COVID-19.

Questions to ask before booking

Choosing between a hotel or Airbnb will depend on your own comfort level with the advertised cleaning procedures. That said, there are precautions you can take to ensure you're staying in a clean space no matter what. Vacationers renting an Airbnb or other short-term rental should ask if the space was professionally cleaned and disinfected between reservations, according to Brian Sansoni, senior vice president at the American Cleaning Institute.

For hotels, Sansoni says, you can either search for information about their cleaning protocols on their websites or call them directly. If you call, Sansoni suggests inquiring about the availability of hand sanitizer stations at the property, as well as the hotel's disinfection practices. Because the CDC recommends a 24-hour vacancy period between reservations, it also can't hurt to ask when your room or unit was last occupied before you check-in.

Red flags that your room isn't clean

Now more than ever, it pays to watch out for the red flags you're about to stay at a bad hotel. When you arrive at your hotel room or Airbnb, Sansoni suggests inspecting the space thoroughly. Areas where dirt or grime has accumulated, especially near the corners of the room and bathroom, are "red flags for me on-site," Sansoni says.

If you're staying in an Airbnb rental, Sansoni recommends paying attention to the cleanliness of the kitchen and food contact surfaces like countertops, too. A lack of information on the host's hygiene and cleaning practices should also be a red flag, Sansoni says. As an extra precaution, he suggests packing your own hand wipes, hand sanitizers, and disinfectant wipes. Use the wipes to clean high-contact surfaces in your space as soon as you arrive, starting with these 13 things hotels aren't cleaning as they should.

Other factors to consider

Cleanliness isn't the only aspect of travel lodging to consider in a post-coronavirus world. For starters, the cancellation policies of hotels and Airbnbs can vary widely—and may determine how confident you feel about committing to a reservation. Most hotels allow travelers to make changes to their reservations without penalty up to 24 hours before arriving. Airbnb hosts, on the other hand, are often less flexible with their cancellation and refund policies. Although Airbnb has issued an extenuating circumstances policy that guarantees refunds on reservations made before March 14 through June 30, the policy will not cover reservations you book now.

However, Airbnbs could have the edge on social distancing practices. Dozens of guests and staff pass through a hotel's doors on a daily basis, while Airbnbs provide more privacy, with procedures like contactless check-ins already the norm. For this reason, "when individuals do start traveling again, they will likely increasingly opt for private properties with more space over traditional hotel stays," Amiad Soto, co-founder and CEO of Guesty, said in a press release.

Hotel vs. Airbnb: Which One is Safer After Lockdown Ends?
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