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How to reopen your vacation rental property safely

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Table of contents

The COVID-19 pandemic stopped travel in its tracks. Many states enacted shelter at home mandates early-on, affecting travel-related activities. Because of this, the overall reduction in travel had a significant impact on Airbnb. The company had to lay off 25% of its workforce. In a letter to employees during the layoffs, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said, “We are collectively living through the most harrowing crisis of our lifetime, and as it began to unfold, global travel came to a standstill.”

As the country reopens in an attempt to resume business, new COVID-19 cases have occurred, with the vacation destinations of Florida, Arizona, California and Nevada among the hardest-hit states.

Forbes reports that 64% of guests have canceled or plan to cancel their Airbnb bookings since the pandemic started. Hosts are still responsible for mortgage payments and maintenance, even if people are too afraid to travel. If the pandemic lasts another six months, 45% of hosts won’t be able to sustain operating costs. In fact, 16% have already missed at least one mortgage payment on their vacation rental properties. How can hosts adapt their businesses to survive these uncertain times?

What’s changed

Having to stay home has never occurred in history at this magnitude. Before the pandemic, the tourism industry was experiencing record-breaking growth. The United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) report, reported nine consecutive years of growth in travel. Airbnb experienced over 30% growth in the first quarter of 2019, with 91 million nights booked in the first three months. 

The rapid spread of the coronavirus stopped tourism growth in its tracks. UNWTO’s latest report notes that international tourism is down 22% for the first quarter of 2020 and forecasts that tourism could decline 60 to 80% for the year. 

For many people, the inability to travel, even if for a quick weekend getaway, was a sudden and jarring reality. However, since stay-at-home orders have begun to ease up, many individuals are once again exploring travel options. 

As people begin to travel again, vacation rental hosts may be breathing a sigh of relief. But it doesn’t mean rental owners can go back to business as usual. To give potential vacationers the peace of mind and sense of safety they’re looking for, hosts need to create new safe practices and communicate them to potential renters.

Airbnb has taken the lead by creating its own unique set of guidelines hosts can follow — and renters can expect. It has developed new and enhanced protocols like the Cleaning Protocol, created by informed guidance from the CDC and leading experts in medical hygiene and hospitality, and a Booking Buffer to help hosts create safe environments for their guests. These guidelines include:

A 24-hour vacancy rule

Hosts and cleaners must wait at least 24 hours after vacancy before entering the space to reduce their risk of infection.

Cleaning guidelines

Hosts and/or their cleaning crew must follow a certain procedure to clean and disinfect the rental:

  • Wear masks and gloves.
  • Ventilate the rooms before cleaning by opening windows and running fans.
  • Wash hands before and after each cleaning.
  • Use soap to clean, followed by disinfectant containing at least 70% alcohol or diluted household bleach on all surfaces.
  • Wash linens at the highest heat setting recommended.
  • Disinfect all appliance interiors including vacuums, washing machines and dishwashers.

Booking restrictions

Hosts can block bookings for at least 72 hours between stays, as recommended by the CDC.

Don’t forget the basics

All vacation rental hosts should go back to the basics when it comes to providing a clean and sanitary rental. The concept of cleanliness isn’t a new one. The COVID-19 new normal means additional precautions, and a layer of sanitation should be incorporated into your vacation rental preparation.

Here are five ways to be a better host to build trust with your clients and ensure they keep coming back:

Stock your rental with essential amenities 

Make sure your rental is stocked with supplies that keep your guests safe. Some ideas include:

  • Hand soap in all bathrooms and the kitchen area.
  • An alcohol-based hand wash pump at the entrance where guests can sanitize their hands when they come in from being out.
  • Provide paper towels and paper napkins instead of regular towels and linens. It’s better to provide disposable paper products for sanitation purposes than washing kitchen rags and towels in hot water. If you’re concerned about the sustainability of paper products, consider supplying the rental with paper towels made with recycled paper. You can also provide a recycling bin for paper products.

Establish new house rules 

Not all visitors are as informed about the virus and its patterns as you may need to be as a business owner. Setting up new house rules for the safety of your guests should be a top priority. Some areas you should establish house rules for include:

  • No unregistered guests allowed.
  • No house parties or a limit of 10 house guests or less.
  • A no-shoe policy inside the home to prevent others from bringing in the virus off the street.
  • Asking house guests to notify you before they leave if anyone showed COVID-19 symptoms during their stay, so your cleaning crew can use extra caution when entering the property once it has been vacated.

Update your homeowners insurance 

Make sure your homeowners insurance is updated. You may need to speak with your insurer about COVID-19-related coverage for your rental property. Ask what would happen if your rental is inoperable due to coronavirus contamination. The issue is fairly new and debated among insurers, but your homeowners insurance policy could likely cover the clean-up costs or interruption of your rental business. It’s best to confirm ahead of time.

Properly train your cleaning team

Do a walk through with your cleaning crew about the new cleaning policy required to stay compliant with Airbnb’s Cleaning Protocol. It’s important the cleaners understand the importance of using protective gear to keep themselves safe. You may want to create a checklist that includes:

  • Emptying vacuum bags.
  • Making sure all trash bins and hampers are lined with plastic trash bags.
  • Ensuring mattresses have a protective cover and additional layers of fitted sheets to keep them contamination-free.
  • The sanitation of all high-contact surfaces such as doorknobs, handles and light switches.
  • The removal and disposal of all cleaning supplies from the home once the cleaning is complete.

Communicate your new rental policies

Once your new COVID safety policies are set up, be sure to communicate these changes to existing and future customers. You can create a webpage or upload a document to Google Drive with your safety steps, then share the link in all your confirmation emails and on your rental descriptions.

FAQ

We reached out to industry experts for additional guidance on what steps they recommend to mitigate risk and reassure guests their safety is a top priority.

What’s something that hosts can do to make their guests feel more comfortable during these unprecedented times, that they may not already be aware of?

Marina Vaamonde, Founder of PropertyCashin.com and Commercial Real Estate Investor, invested in additional filtration devices to make guests feel more comfortable. She

“purchased mobile UVC disinfection devices which are being used before any new renter is allowed access to the property. The ultraviolet light machine is placed into every area of the property, including bathrooms, to sanitize the space.” Vaamonde loves that it “adds an extra layer of protection against the germs. Once our staff finishes using physical cleaners, they plug in the light to zap anything they might have missed.”

Bruce Rosenberg, President of the Americas at HotelPlanner.com, focuses on clear communication and protocols to make guests feel more comfortable. He states,

“if there are expectations of the guest, make sure these are part of the reservation process. Daily housekeeping, if offered, should be confirmed with the guest if they do or do not want this service. Also many hosts are scheduling a break between guests from 1-4 days. If this is a policy of the hotel/rental home this should be shared with the guest.”

What advice do you have for hosts that plan to reopen their property for booking, especially in states that continue to see COVID-19 cases (located within the sunbelt)?

“Our advice is to be clear regarding what steps are being taken to prevent incidence of COVID,” offers Rosenberg. “Train the staff to answer questions consistently with the same information. If there is a situation where a guest contracts COVID at a hotel, reach out to the guests and let them know and help to establish a contact tracing methodology if needed. It is important to share information up front if there are guests staying at the property for their 14 day isolation period.”

John Paul Donnelly, Founder of 5StarVillaHolidays.com, suggests leaving a longer gap between guests to help prevent cross contamination and provide more time for thorough cleanings. He also encourages hosts to

“speak to your property management company about their procedures for cleaning, and check these are in line with current regulations. Think about any new rules you might have for guests, such as not travelling to your property if they have any symptoms of coronavirus, or putting keys in lockboxes rather than handing them over in person. Make sure you communicate any enhanced cleaning procedures and any new rules to your guests as soon as possible.”

What’s the most common question you hear from potential guests looking to book during this time and how do you respond?

“The most common question from potential guests at the moment is ‘can I get a refund if lockdown starts again’. People want to have vacations again, they are massively important to families in bringing them together, and for wellbeing and time to switch off,” Donnelly says, “but guests are also, naturally, concerned about a potential lockdown that means they can’t travel. As a villa operator, we have introduced a money back guarantee if a guest can’t travel due to coronavirus. This is something to check with your villa operator before you book.”

Vaamonde relies on emailing procedures to keep guests updated,

“We are always being asked about our cleaning procedures. Our policy is to email over a link to our most current cleaning and maintenance records.”

Resources

Bottom line

The coronavirus has brought about a new normal. The ways the world and the tourist industry used to do business no longer work. Those who can adapt to the changes and the uncertain times ahead may be able to navigate the challenges and come out stronger.

Your customer’s safety and trust should be a top priority. Taking steps to ensure their stays at your properties are safe takes some adjustment in how you prepare for the arrival of new guests, but the process isn’t too complicated. Establish guidelines and house rules for the new normal and make sure you communicate them to your customers.

Cynthia Paez Bowman

Writer

Cynthia splits her time between Los Angeles, CA and San Sebastian, Spain. She travels to Africa and the Middle East regularly to consult with women’s NGOs about small business development.