To help protect its business and its customers, Airbnb will impose a waiting period of at least 24 hours between rentals for the millions of properties that owners offer worldwide through the San Francisco-based online marketplace.
The company announced the new rules this week in a statement titled "Airbnb's Enhanced Cleaning Initiative for the Future of Travel." They begin in May.
The 24-hour waiting period is one of two choices. Owners will be required to complete a learning and certification program and foot the costs of a cleaning protocol that the company says will include the use of masks, gloves, and approved disinfectants by hosts or outside cleaners.
Hosts who won't commit to that regimen can instead use a new feature called a "Booking Buffer" that requires the property to undergo an apparently more basic cleaning, with new reservations automatically blocked for 72 hours after the previous rental has ended.
In that scenario, "hosts should still observe CDC recommendations and other applicable local guidance," the Airbnb announcement said.
Billed as a first in the home-sharing industry
Airbnb touts the new rules as the "the first overarching standardized protocol for cleaning and sanitization in the home sharing industry."
The online marketplace said it's using guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and pledged to continue working with "local governments, medical experts, and other authorities" to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with any other necessary precautions or requirements.
Those experts include Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general from 2014 to 2017 known for his work helping contend with other plagues such as Ebola and the Zika virus as the nation's top doctor during the last years of the Obama administration.
"As a society we need to observe the physical distancing recommendations made by public health officials while finding ways to preserve and strengthen human connection," Murthy said in the Airbnb announcement.
Is the short-term rental business recovering?
Short-term rentals from sites like Airbnb are being decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with bookings nearly drying up in coronavirus hotspots such as New York and Rome.
Although the online marketplace itself recently slashed its marketing budget to try to save costs, leaving its paying hosts to sort that out on their own, this week's announcement does contain a note of optimism.
Bookings as of late March showed reservations beginning at least six months out were higher than last year at this time, Airbnb says, adding that a recent survey showed 92% of respondents around the world planned to host at least as much as before the pandemic, once this threat is gone.
"We have seen indications that our hosts are committed to hosting and we think people will be eager to travel in the future," the company announcement said.
The cleaning protocols put in place, and perhaps as crucially, the public relations effort around that, will combine with latent travel demand to give Airbnb's business a serious boost when conditions improve. Certainly that's the hope for the company and its client hosts and the strategy behind these new rules.