Hosting during COVID-19: How to protect yourself and your Airbnb guests

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The world’s travel industry has been among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Airline passenger revenue has dropped 55% since 2019 and more than 100 million jobs in the travel industry have been lost. Airbnb has been another victim, experiencing an enormous decline in reservations and a huge increase in cancellations that have impacted both the company and hosts.

Even as lockdown restrictions begin to ease, hosts have new challenges to deal with, including Airbnb’s enhanced cleaning protocols which require a minimum of 24 hours between reservations — and up to three days if hosts can’t meet certain hygiene standards. Despite a range of obstacles as Airbnb continues to navigate an evolving environment, there are some ways that hosts can mitigate the financial damage and adapt to the new world.

How to stay ahead of the curve and keep guests interested

As people begin to consider traveling again, Airbnb hosts can attract guests by making the reservation process as easy as possible and by making them feel safe during the stay itself. Here are a few tactics for mitigating financial losses and driving more guests to your listings.

Continuing to host – here’s what guests may want to know about

Potential guests may feel hesitant to make a booking with so much uncertainty surrounding the future. First, help guests who already have upcoming reservations understand Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy. It applies to any reservations made before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date from then through June 30, 2020. Guests can cancel their reservation for a full refund or travel credit, allowing them to take their time in the decision-making process rather than cancelling early in order to save on fees.

Also consider updating your cancellation policy. Airbnb allows hosts to choose from different options with varying degrees of strictness. If a potential guest sees that they can make a reservation and cancel later with minimal financial impact, they’ll be much more likely to choose your listing over another one that offers less flexibility.

Next, update your Airbnb listing to share your cleaning routine. This will give guests peace of mind since they’ll know that you’re committed to disinfecting the property between each stay. Also note any time buffers you implement between bookings, whether 24 hours or three days.

Guests are also looking for additional amenities, like work spaces, reliable WiFi or any extra features that are child-friendly. Contactless check-in is another feature worth adding if you don’t already offer it. It’s very easy and inexpensive to implement a lockbox with a key or a smart lock so your guests can control social distancing within their own comfort levels.

Another way to improve your reservations is to offer longer stays with discounts for weekly and monthly stays. Travelers, especially those living in urban areas, may be looking for a longer change of scenery. Plus, it decreases the need for you to turnover properties between listings which means you can save on cleaning fees.

What to do if you or a guest tests positive for COVID-19

As an Airbnb host, it’s important for you to do your part, to the best of your ability, to create an environment that is focused on health and well-being. But no matter what precautions are taken, you or a guest may still contract COVID-19. If you become ill, your first priority is to seek medical attention. Then contact Airbnb to see how they can help.

You can also cancel any upcoming reservations, especially if you are the one entering the property to clean or prepare the space. Under Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy, you’ll likely be able to initiate a cancellation without being charged any fees or hurting your Superhost status. In order to keep your reservations, all cleaning and contact must be delegated to someone who hasn’t been in contact with the virus. Your account may also be temporarily suspended during the recovery process in order to limit the spread of coronavirus.

If a guest contracts COVID-19 while staying in your Airbnb, you should contact local health authorities and Airbnb. Once the guest leaves, you’ll need to implement the cleaning protocol recommended by both Airbnb and the CDC:

  • Wear protective gear
  • Ventilate rooms before you clean
  • Wash your hands before and after
  • Clean and disinfect
  • Don’t touch your face while cleaning
  • Wash linens on high heat

How to protect yourself as a host

You may find yourself unable to host for a number of reasons, from living in a high-case area to being subject to travel restrictions. This can cause a huge financial burden as you deal with continuous expenses and lost income, but there are some resources you can turn to.

Because guests now have more flexibility with cancellations, Airbnb created a $250 million fund to pay hosts 25% of what you would have normally received as part of your cancellation policy. Superhosts have access to a $17 million relief fund and can apply to receive a $5,000 grant. You do, however, have to wait to be invited to apply for the grant. Airbnb plans to prioritize invitations based on loss or earnings and length of time being a Superhost. But once you do apply, you could receive the funds within two weeks of getting approved.

While Airbnb’s efforts can help, they will by no means replace the loss of income hosts are experiencing. Try to reduce your expenses in the short-term by checking your existing policies for some type of relief. For instance, you may be able to pause or cancel your homeowners insurance policies on your rental properties if you don’t have any reservations in the immediate future. Also call your utilities provider, property tax office and HOA to see if they have any discounts or relief options available.

A personal loan is another option for getting through a temporary cash-crunch, especially if you’re starting to receive bookings further down the road but need to stimulate your cash flow before then. While you’ll enjoy fixed payments over a set period of time, you are personally liable for repaying the funds. Late payments can hurt your credit score, so it’s important that you feel comfortable with taking on this additional financial responsibility.

Bottom Line

Many Airbnb hosts are experiencing financial burdens on top of the emotional and health risks surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. By tapping into your available resources and optimizing your listings to appease guests’ concerns, you can weather the storm until the world begins to normalize.