The COVID-19 pandemic, which still rages in many parts of the world, has made us more conscious of health and hygiene than we’ve ever been.
Even in areas where lockdowns have been lifted, the public health emergency is still fresh in people’s minds – and many are wary of a second wave. So, it comes as no surprise that travellers who hit the road again after long months of confinement will expect a higher standard of cleanliness from accommodation providers.
From hotels to vacation rentals to glamping properties and everything in between, everyone has to make an effort to win back the confidence of travellers.
To help property managers navigate this new world of enhanced cleaning standards and attract guests to their rentals, the major OTAs have introduced a raft of cleaning and sanitation protocols.
Thanks to our privileged position as preferred partners of four major OTAs, at Rentals United we’ve been able to get an insider look into the new health and cleaning guides put in place by Airbnb, Booking.com, Agoda and Expedia.
1. What are Booking.com, Agoda, Airbnb and Expedia doing to highlight cleanliness measures?
2. How can property managers display their cleaning policies in their Airbnb, Booking.com, Agoda and Expedia listings?
3. Are OTA’s making certain cleaning measures mandatory?
4. Do listings get filtered by cleaning policies?
5. How can adopting the new cleaning protocols help with attracting bookings?
Below, you’ll find a comparison of each OTA’s cleaning and safety initiatives. And, we answer all your most commonly asked questions about the new cleaning standards.
Cleanliness has always been something to focus on for vacation rentals – after all, it’s one of the most important factors that guests take into account when deciding to book a rental. Not to mention that spotlessly clean properties have a better chance of getting good reviews.
But in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, ensuring that your rental is clean has become more than just a way of making your guests feel comfortable: it’s now a health and safety concern.
To put guests at ease, it’s imperative for accommodation providers to adopt strict cleaning measures according to the recommendations of their local governments and public health organisations.
As a way of providing property managers with additional support, the world’s largest OTAs have announced their own guidelines, and they’re giving property managers tools to gain more visibility by promoting the enhanced cleaning measures they’ve adopted.
Here’s what each OTA is doing to help property managers highlight health and safety measures.
Booking.com is committed to helping their partners on their journey to long-term recovery by working to secure and deliver customers to them.
“We’re focusing our efforts on bringing our partners the tools and tailored insights they need to effectively respond to the evolving travel environment, capture new bookings and rebuild their business,” Booking.com told us.
They are actively helping their partners navigate health and safety regulations and changing traveller preferences and have made key product updates to “make it simple to display precautionary COVID-19 measures on their property page for travellers seeking this enhanced transparency.”
These measures include:
“This helps set accurate expectations and brings additional peace of mind for travellers as they begin to experience the world again when it is safe,” said Booking.com.
Agoda is also making several new cleaning attributes available to properties from within their extranet, including:
All of the above measures will be displayed to guests on their front end.
Agoda also told us that they are “experimenting with badging properties”. Properties with over a certain amount of facilities listed above, as well as maintaining a high cleanliness score with their user reviews will receive cleanliness badges.
This is currently still in the works, but there will be more details about this as well as a comprehensive set of cleaning guidelines available at a later date.
Airbnb introduced their enhanced five-step cleaning protocol to help property managers clean and sanitise more effectively during COVID-19 and beyond.
Developing the cleaning protocol in partnership with Ecolab – a global leader in cleaning and hygiene technologies – Airbnb wanted to curate a system to help guests recognise that vacation rental managers and owners are going above and beyond to provide clean and safe vacation rentals for their guests.
Here’s a quick summary of the five points:
Property managers/owners who commit to the cleaning protocol will receive a special highlight on their listing page, so guests searching for a place to stay will know they’ve agreed to follow an enhanced cleaning and sanitisation routine.
Expedia launched a feature allowing lodging partners to highlight the health and hygiene measures they are taking at their properties.
“Partners are doing things such as contactless check-in and check-out, hand sanitizer included in all rooms, enhanced cleaning, and enforcing social distancing measures, among others,” said Expedia.
Within Expedia Group, Vrbo has also created a cleaning and sanitation guideline for property managers validated by medical and industry experts and collated in consultation with Expedia Group partner Cristal International Standards, part of Intertek Group, and with the Vacation Rental Management Association (VRMA).
In addition to these guidelines, Vrbo has also been asking property managers to report on the cleaning and sanitation measures they are implementing at their properties. These cleaning practices can be found on the property’s listing page under the “House Rules” section on both the Vrbo site and app.
A great way to catch the attention of health- and safety-conscious travellers on OTAs is by showcasing the enhanced cleaning procedures you committed to.
So how is each OTA helping property managers create maximum visibility with a spotlight on their new cleaning protocols?
On Booking.com, property managers can add the extensive hygiene, health and safety measures they are taking to reassure their potential guests. This information includes hygiene, distancing and food safety.
“Our partners are able to, in a few clicks, upload their own precautionary measures and health and safety efforts and it will appear in a dedicated area on their property page immediately,” Booking.com told us.
This is the prompt you’ll see when logging into the Booking.com extranet:
And this is what a listing with extra health and safety measures looks like on Booking.com:
More specific information appears in ‘The fine print’ section at the bottom of the listing page:
Read more about Booking.com’s health and safety measures here.
On the Agoda platform, property managers can add cleaning protocols to the “selected facilities on their Agoda property page,” as Agoda told us.
Once cleanliness badges are live, “they will also show on the property and search pages” so guests will be able to quickly search for properties.
Airbnb hosts who follow the 5-step protocol and complete the quiz will get a special cleaning highlight displaying “Enhanced Clean” on their Airbnb listing.
At Expedia, property managers can add the cleaning and disinfection measures they’re implementing via their partner dashboard on Vrbo or via Expedia Group Partner Central.
If they require more information, Expedia encourages property managers to speak to their relevant account manager.
This is what a listing with health and safety measures looks like on Expedia:
The large OTAs provide regularly updated information and practices for property managers across the world to make sure cleaning, check-in and staff-to-guest interactions continue to be as safe as possible.
But how many of these measures are mandatory and what are just suggestions for property managers to consider?
According to Booking.com, while they can offer their support in many areas, the advice given to you by your local government or authorities takes precedence over their guidelines.
The OTA has curated health and cleanliness guidelines – both from industry health and safety experts as well as partners from all over the world – to help support you keeping your property, staff and guests protected.
However, they don’t have any mandatory cleaning measures in place; it’s up to the discretion of the property manager.
Agoda hasn’t made any cleaning protocols mandatory.
Instead, property managers have “the option to select the facilities (i.e. opt-in).” Once badges are available, property managers will also have the choice to opt-in or out.
At Airbnb, the “protocol is available to all hosts and they are encouraged to commit and adopt these enhanced cleaning practices, but it is not mandatory”.
If hosts are unable to commit to the Airbnb cleaning protocol, they can alternatively opt into the Booking Buffer feature, to create a vacancy period between stays. Airbnb wants to help property managers inspire confidence in guests who are highly sensitive to cleanliness due to the pandemic.
Expedia says: “We are not requiring property managers to take any particular measures but are encouraging them to consider what extra cleaning measures they can take and add these to their property listing so we can pass this information on to our travellers.”
Currently, property cleanliness is a primary concern of travellers when searching for accommodation on OTAs.
So which OTAs are adding new search filters or highlighting cleaning criteria that allow customers to find vacation homes offering high cleaning standards?
Booking.com has the option to filter by cleaning policy. You can find it under ‘Properties that take extra health & safety measures’.
Right now, Agoda doesn’t offer this feature. However, they have plans in the future to add filters into their search page that allow users to search based on certain cleaning facilities/criteria.
Airbnb guests can’t filter by cleaning standards. However, hosts with eligible listings who commit to the cleaning protocol will receive a special highlight on their listing page, so guests searching for a place to stay will know they’ve agreed to follow the enhanced cleaning and sanitization routine.
Expedia guests can find information on the cleaning and disinfection measures implemented by a property manager under the “House Rules” section of their property listing page on Vrbo, or under the “Property Description” section of other Expedia Group sites.
On Vrbo, although travellers cannot currently filter by these cleanliness measures, they can use the “Highly Rated for Cleanliness” filter to find properties with the highest cleanliness reviews. Former guests have already provided cleanliness reviews on 900,000 Vrbo properties.
In the past few weeks, the OTAs have already started seeing how updating your listings with cleaning protocols to meet guest concerns can help attract more bookings.
Here’s what they had to say:
Booking.com has noticed a new trend in guest queries. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen a dramatic uptick in the use of specific words used by guests when they ask questions about a property. For example, the use of the words “clean” and “hygiene” have both increased by over 60%,” they said.
This shows that “cautious travellers are yearning for enhanced transparency around cleaning measures at a property.”
As a response to this trend, Booking.com’s goal has been to “make it easier for accommodation providers to openly display this information – alongside any other related measures or key on-site facilities – to help set accurate expectations and bring travellers additional reassurance as they search, book and begin to experience the world once again, in time.”
Agoda says: “It’s pretty clear that cleaning standards are becoming table stakes for travellers, so it’s incredibly important for property managers to maintain great cleaning protocols and communicate these to potential guests.”
Historically, guests have shown interest in vacation rentals due to amenities like private kitchens and laundry.
Since COVID-19, more than ever, travellers are choosing vacation rentals over hotels to take advantage of having a place to themselves with no shared spaces where the risk of contagion might be higher.
That’s why Airbnb suggests tweaking your marketing content to highlight cleaning excellence as guests prioritise cleanliness when choosing between listings.
Expedia is aware that vacation rentals have an opportunity before them – as long as they can guarantee high cleaning standards. As they told us:
“We know that staying in a vacation rental, in drive-to destinations, is more and more appealing to travellers right now, and we also know they are more concerned than ever about the cleanliness measures being taken at the property they’re staying in.”
“According to recent research by BVA BDRC (BDRC, “The Mood of the Nation” study, 500 respondents per week, with some data points leveraging 1,000 sample size per question, polled mid-April through June 2, 2020), more than 50% of guests staying in a vacation rental expect hand sanitizer on property.”
“With that in mind, we’re giving property managers opportunities to tell travellers how they’ve upgraded their standard cleaning protocols.”
The key takeaway from this should be that deep cleaning and sanitisation of your vacation rental is highly recommended by all four OTAs.
All have implemented new cleaning and sanitation protocols as well as new front-end displays to highlight steps taken by property managers to ensure guest safety.
Some OTAs are even offering new search tools to promote those properties with extra cleanliness and safety measures.
Boost your bookings and show guests that you are committed to giving them a clean and safe place to enjoy their vacation.