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As a traveler, Theresa Blanding has always considered herself a hotel person. But in the age of coronavirus, a bustling hotel lobby and crowded elevators give her pause. “I'm confident that hotels will be careful about cleaning, but I'm not sure how it's possible to avoid contact with other guests, not to mention staff,” says the 71-year-old Boulder, Colorado, resident. So while Blanding has been reluctant to book Airbnbs and similar options in the past, she says she will be more open to them when we can all travel again. “They don't always deliver what they promise, but they feel like the safer choice right now,” she notes.
As coronavirus lockdowns slowly begin to ease, people are slowly starting to contemplate future vacation plans. Many, like Blanding, are rethinking old travel habits. They're also armed with a lot more questions. “I'm normally a very trusting person, but whether I stay at a hotel or a rental property, I want to know exactly how they're cleaning between guests and whether I'm going to have to travel with Clorox wipes,” she says.
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Donna Racette, a 70-year-old retiree in Niwot, Colorado, was traveling in California in early March when the coronavirus-related travel alarms started. “I noticed the hotel staff weren't cleaning the doorknobs,” she says. “I became fastidious about having my own wipes and would go into a hotel before my husband to wipe down the doorknobs and elevator buttons.” When she starts to travel again, Racette says she'll definitely book through Airbnb or Vrbo. “I like knowing I am in control of cleaning all the rooms and surfaces in a home during my stay,” she says. “I can't have that control in a hotel.”
A recent survey conducted by market research company OmniTrak examined travel-related perceptions of risk related to the coronavirus pandemic and found that hotels (46 percent) were seen as a greater risk than an Airbnb or vacation rental (39 percent). The survey of 2,500 people did not ask participants to go into detail about their travel confidence, but Chris Kam, OmniTrak's president, surmises that respondents perceived home shares as less risky because the volume of travelers to a vacation rental is likely smaller than at a hotel. “A vacation rental is also less likely to have common areas frequented by guests,” he adds.
Increased safety precautions
Despite lower foot traffic perhaps translating to fewer germs, guests need to realize that companies such as Airbnb, HomeAway and Vrbo do not oversee the cleaning standards of individual properties. Homeowners have always been responsible for maintenance and cleaning. But with the pandemic, all three companies have taken extra measures to provide hosts with cleaning guidance based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including washing hands thoroughly before and after each cleaning, emptying vacuum cleaners after every use, and disposing of or washing cleaning supplies. They have also updated their sites with helpful information for hosts, including listing EPA-approved products for use against the COVID-19 virus and recommending ways to make guests feel safe, such as stocking extra hand sanitizer and antibacterial hand washes. “We encourage partners to update their listings with their cleaning procedures,” says Alison Kwong, a Vrbo spokesperson. The company also encourages travelers to read reviews and ask owners about their cleaning protocols before booking, she says.
Amy Varain, an Airbnb and Vrbo host with homes in Lake Tahoe, California, and Maui, Hawaii, has updated her listings to include her cleaning regimen and precautions. “I already have high cleaning standards, but I've decided to get rid of decorative throw pillows,” she says. “Blankets that I store in the closet are now in zipped enclosures with a note that asks people to leave them on the bed to be laundered if used."