When travel eventually resumes following the outbreak of COVID-19, travelers will have to reassess their comfort levels across all aspects of the journey.
Rather than hopping on a domestic or international flight, travelers will likely ease back into venturing outside the home by visiting someplace local and accessible by car.
Their shift in mindset will also affect how they select accommodations, with cleanliness and sanitation becoming top of mind over other considerations like price.
And while staying in a hotel might offer some peace of mind given properties’ on-site housekeeping, "hotels are a concern because of the congregation of people," says Jayne McCaw, founder and president of Ontario-based Jayne’s Cottages.
Conversely, short-term rentals - particularly those outside of urban areas - offer a sense of seclusion away from shared elevators and busy lobbies.
However, many short-term rentals don’t have the reputation of being uber-sanitized. As concerns over these matters mount, vacation rental players are taking stock of how they keep properties safe and communicate those measures to guests.
Keeping it clean
As CEO of housekeeping software company Doinn, Noelia Novella says she’s been pushing the importance of cleanliness in vacation rentals since she started the Portugal-based company in 2014. “But no one thought it was sexy enough.”
“Now, it’s my time,” she says, as the industry starts to take sanitation more seriously amid the coronavirus outbreak.
With Doinn, which offers cleaning and laundry services and counts Airbnb, Booking.com, HomeAway and Rentals United among its partners, Novella says its mission is to “offer the best of both worlds”: professional-grade cleaning in the comfort of a home rental.
That same importance you place on a beautiful view over the river is going to be on professional services to make the place super safe for you.
Noelia Novella - Doinn
But unlike in hotel rooms, where Novella says housekeeping has approximately 22 minutes to clean, homes that Doinn services receive extended cleanings, about 90 minutes for a studio apartment.
Amid the current crisis, Novella says Doinn is paying closer attention to the cleaning products used, opting for those with the strongest disinfectants. “In conversations with companies providing chemicals to cleaning companies, they tell me, ‘If it’s green, it doesn’t clean,’” she says.
“We have to be more careful now. What doesn’t look dirty, because it’s dark or shiny, could have the virus.”
Jill Mason, CEO of VRScheduler, a task management tool that connects to platforms including Vrbo, Airbnb, Hostfully and Operto, says it’s important to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, which “are constantly changing.”
Bigger property management companies, she says, are better able to keep cleaning staff trained in line with best practices and even control and shift how guests book to align with those policies.
"What I'm reading right now is the best practice may be to not even send a cleaner in until a day after the guest checks out," Mason says. "[By monitoring it] you can see the time between guests to keep staff safe and to keep the next guest safe.”
For McCaw of Jayne’s Cottages, which offers luxury rentals and concierge services to high-end travelers in the Muskoka region, she says she’s had to manage what the CDC advises alongside guest expectations.
Although the company, which is a customer of VRScheduler, has suspended new bookings until June, McCaw says some homes from existing reservations are still in use, and the coronavirus has changed guests’ demands around cleaning.
"We have one rental right now where they asked for cleaning for six hours a day," she says. "We actually were able to fill it for his first day. Then the second day, the cleaner said she had a headache, so we ended up canceling, trying to get another cleaner, but we weren't able to find one."
When normal business does resume, McCaw says Jayne's Cottages will evaluate the safest options for both guests and cleaners and how that might affect the rental schedule.
“We are very high-touch, and our guests expect this type of service ... but I anticipate guests will have to understand what's safe.”
Much like travelers can filter search results by amenities or room type on booking sites, Novella believes they will soon be able to filter by cleaning standards, as well.
“I’ve been having this conversation [about cleaning filters] with Airbnb and HomeAway for five years,” she says. “Now, everyone will want to click that filter.”
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Individual rental profiles should also include if they use a professional cleaning service, Novella adds, so prospective guests know upfront what to expect. “That same importance you place on a beautiful view over the river is going to be on professional services to make the place super safe for you.”
Mason emphasizes the importance of communicating cleaning policies to guests and believes reputable management companies have an advantage over individually owned and operated homes that don’t use professional services.
"There's going to be a lot more relationship-building with your future guests," she says. "Or maybe you're only bringing in people that have worked with you before, so there are going to be a lot more direct bookings."
McCaw, who says 99% of Jayne’s Cottages' business is booked direct, adds: "The mom-and-pop, Airbnb-type [rentals], they're going to find it really, really tough because the consumer is not going to have the same level of confidence in them."
"In general, I think travel is going to become more domestic and it's going to be word-of-mouth. It's going to be your friends that have stayed somewhere ... and you really trust word-of-mouth number one, and the Airbnb route might be one of the last choices.”