I’m wanting to get back into travel, but Airbnb’s new cleaning protocols don’t make me feel any safer.
When COVID-19 first started spreading back in March, I pressed pause on a lot of things in my life. One of the first? My Airbnb listing.
For the last four years, I’ve rented out the guest bedroom in my charming 1830s brick farmhouse on Airbnb. The Hudson Valley, where I live, is a magnet for city people looking to #upstateandchill, whether that be attending a friend’s rustic barn wedding, taking a personal transformation workshop at the nearby Omega Institute, or hitting up the local trails. When New York was becoming the epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S., the urban exodus escalated, tensions rose, and so did case counts.
Airbnb-ing my spare room had been a nice way to make a bit of cash, but there was no way I was opening my house to the plus-one of an unpredictable airborne virus. Or sharing my bathroom with strangers.
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Airbnb’s new enhanced cleaning protocol, based on the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommendations, suggested hosts aggressively disinfect and sanitize everything from light switches and door locks to standard-fare bathroom fixtures. While I agreed with the suggestions, in theory, the logistics of spending more time and money keeping things clean with the few products I could panic-buy from my local Target just weren’t doable.
While I used to travel almost exclusively through the platform, there’s no way I’d book an Airbnb now. While I appreciate their enhanced cleaning protocols for the hosts who derive a majority of their income from hosting and need to continue to do so in these times, ultimately, the new cleaning protocols are a bandage, not a solution.
Airbnb’s new enhanced cleaning protocol, based on the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommendations, suggested hosts aggressively disinfect and sanitize everything from light switches and door locks to standard-fare bathroom fixtures.
Airbnb listings can be aspirational: every listing, mine included, is essentially marketing material and pretty photos, carefully edited to show only the best features of a space. I’ve been disappointed with stays often enough to know that what you see isn’t always what you get. Even if a host says they did enhanced cleaning, could I really be sure? When people are desperate to replace lost income, they might lie…or at least omit the sort of information I’d need to make smart decisions.
I could bring my own cleaning supplies and disinfect every surface upon arrival to have peace of mind, but, not only does that wreck the vacation mindset, but it also doesn’t address the real risk: unfiltered indoor air.
I can’t know who a host or previous guest has come into contact with and who that puts me in contact with. In times when basic safety steps like wearing a mask cause some folks to have hissy fits, I need to keep my distance until we’re able to re-establish public trust and belief in science.
Interviewing cleaning professionals for a restaurant-industry article did help me figure out what might make me feel safer when traveling, however. Inside spaces generally aren’t safe, but there are ways to improve them: filtering air, disinfecting with UV light, and applying protective antimicrobial treatments that self-clean high-touch surfaces, like doorknobs.
In these times where cleaning protocols must be so closely followed and monitored, I might be better served by a hotel that’s invested in the right cleaning measures rather than rely on a host I might never even meet to take precautions that will keep me safe.
I can’t know who a host or previous guest has come into contact with and who that puts me in contact with.
While vacation rentals are personally off-limits for the foreseeable future, I’ve moved ahead with summer travel regardless. I recently took a camping trip to Acadia National Park, which is doing a phased reopening for COVID-19. Campgrounds are closed for the 2020 season and the “Island Explorer” bus service is indefinitely postponed, but many parts of the park are fully open to visitors (check online for the latest visitor information). During my visit, the park’s sole restaurant, where we grabbed popovers to go, was doing contact tracing. Rangers dispensed socially distanced advice from tents outside the visitor center. Except for a 10-minute trip to the park shop, I was outside the entire time, and I could easily move away from anyone who made me feel unsafe.
Rather than Airbnb-ing, our typical way to stay, we opted for a private, backcountry-style tent campground near the park’s little-known, little-visited Schoodic District. Since there were only five campsites, the campground wouldn’t put us near crowds. And since there were no amenities (like a swimming pool, lake, or laundry facility), campers wouldn’t really be hanging out. It was a basic place to sleep that would allow us to experience the park while meeting our safety needs–staying outside and far away from other people.
With fall on the way, it will soon be too cold to camp. And I’m not ready to go back to Airbnb. Hotels might be my preferred choice until there’s a vaccine due to their commitment to cleaning, customer service, and hospitality.
What I value about Airbnb is the flexibility the platform offers and how that democratizes travel. I can travel wherever, whenever, and however I want, spending more for a special occasion and booking a cheap room to economize. But accountability and customer service aren’t Airbnb’s strengths. The platform can be pretty hands-off when problems arise. Unless there’s an emergency, Airbnb leaves it up to the host and guest to come to a compromise when an issue arises. From my experience on both sides, these drawn-out negotiations are lose-lose situations. I was willing to deal with the occasional dud of a stay for the flexibility and convenience Airbnb offered, but now my needs are different.
Policies like the enhanced cleaning might make some travelers give Airbnb a try, especially if they’ll sanitize everything on arrival. But before I travel with Airbnb, I want to feel like I can trust my host to minimize risk and care about their wellbeing as well as mine. And I need accountability and better customer service from Airbnb if there’s an issue.
When Airbnb was preparing for its IPO earlier this year, the company admitted they needed to improve guest safety, accountability, and transparency. That all got paused when the coronavirus hit, but now Airbnb is proceeding with the IPO. Those shared values? No comment yet. But I’ll be listening.