Coronavirus and Meetings
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Home-sharing platform Airbnb has joined the likes of Marriott, Wynn and others by developing a new cleaning protocol for all hosts. The plan, which takes guidance from hospitality and medical hygiene experts, will specify cleaning procedures and call for a 24-hour waiting period between bookings. The announcement demonstrates Airbnb's drive to maintain safety and hygiene standards across its wildly diverse "portfolio" of accommodations that for the most part are managed by the homeowners themselves.
Dubbed the Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, Airbnb's protocol is informed by published standards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; guidance from experts such as former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy; and input from companies in the hospitality and medical hygiene industries, such as Ecolab, which provides cleaning and hygiene technology and services.
The Airbnb Cleaning Protocol, which will be launched officially in May, will include enhanced hygiene procedures as well as guidelines for how to clean every room in a home. To commit to the new protocol and have their properties designated as such, hosts will need to enroll in the learning and certification program; shortly after enrollment, guests will be able to identify and book the properties that conform to the new standards.
Of course, the enhanced aspects of the new program will relate specifically to COVID-19 prevention. Among measures will be the required use of masks and gloves for hosts or their cleaners, in addition to the use of disinfectants that are approved by regulatory authorities. As recommended by the CDC, a 24-hour waiting period before entering will be required, to address the possibility that virus particles could remain in the air for a few hours. The new protocol will be available to all hosts, and Airbnb encourages every host to adopt the procedures.
Those hosts who do not or cannot commit to the new protocol can instead opt in to a new feature called Booking Buffer, which automatically creates a vacancy between stays. In this case, the hosts commit to keeping their properties vacant, with only cleaning occurring between the stays. The buffer will be set at 72 hours to start, which includes the 24-hour wait period before entering the property. Hosts will still be asked to observe all CDC recommendations and other local guidelines. This feature is based on the guidelines developed for Airbnb's Frontline Stays project, through which hosts are now offering lodging for medical workers and first responders around the world.
"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," said Murthy. "I’m looking forward to helping the Airbnb community as it develops a health- and science-based approach for safe travel lodging and experiences. These approaches will continue to evolve as our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 grows.” As Surgeon General, Murthy led the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and responses to the Ebola and Zika outbreaks.
Lodging Alternatives in a New Era
Airbnb wants all stakeholders to remain viable and competitive as the world begins to travel again, and the company is committed to developing the tools necessary to reflect the current guidance of health experts and the scientific community. Safety and consistency issues with respect to home-sharing, however, have long been concerns of travel and meeting professionals, who will need to be convinced that the measures being taken conform with their duty-of-care requirements.
On the other hand, Airbnb points to the potential upside of more private lodging in the wake of the pandemic, and the traveler's desire to avoid high-traffic areas. "Historically, guests have shown interest in Airbnb travel because of amenities like private kitchens and laundry," reads an Airbnb statement. "Now, more than ever, travelers may choose Airbnb listings, which inherently offer more control over their environment and travel experience."