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Will Airbnb be back next month? Short-term lets sector prepares to reopen

The short-term accommodation and holiday lettings sector, of which Airbnb is the major player, has supported the implementation of new UK-wide industry cleaning protocols as it targets an early July re-opening.

With the UK government provisionally earmarking Saturday July 4 as the date when certain sectors of the travel and hospitality industry can resume (in England at least, the devolved administrations are following different paths), the short-term accommodation sector is preparing itself for a safe and successful restart by implementing new cleaning protocols. 

The ‘cleaning protocols for self-catering properties and short-term lets in the context of Covid-19’ have been developed collaboratively by a number of industry bodies including the UK Short Term Accommodation Association (STAA), the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, Quality in Tourism, the Professional Association of Self-Caterers and the Wales Tourism Alliance.

The Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden recently made a statement in which he said “…I am keen that we get the tourism sector going as rapidly as possible. We have set the ambitious target of July 4, and if we can do it consistent with public health, we will do so. Self-contained accommodation has a lower risk than other areas, so I would hope that that will be at the front of the queue.” As a result, the industry is keen to ensure that everyone is ready and able to meet the right standards. 

The protocols have been shared with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and have now been submitted to government for approval, to strengthen the hospitality guidance developed by UK Hospitality at a national level.

The rules, supported by a number of the UK’s tourism bodies, are based on guidance provided by organisations such as the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Public Health England.

According to the STAA, the adoption of these new protocols by self-catering properties and short-term lets will ensure the health and safety of guests, hosts and company staff.

Merilee Karr, chair of the STAA and chief executive of UnderTheDoormat, said: “We have a responsibility to reassure guests about the safety of short-term rental accommodation. These protocols should provide consumers with the confidence to travel safely to any property that meets them.”

She added: “I agree with Oliver Dowden that short-term rentals which adhere to these cleaning protocols offer a comparatively low-risk option for customers looking to book a holiday in the current environment.”

Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, also commented: “These protocols will allow our sector to reopen to our guests while ensuring the health and safety of everyone involved during these difficult times. Getting our members back to work is essential for both the health and vitality of our sector but also for the Scottish economy, given that we generate £723 million each year in revenue.”

The new industry cleaning protocols aim to provide high level principles for companies and individuals to follow in preparing a property correctly for incoming guests and cleaning it during and after their stay. They concentrate on three main areas:

  • Conducting a risk assessment of each property

  • Recommended cleaning protocols

  • Safely managing contact with guests

A risk matrix constructed by Quality in Tourism has revealed that short-term rentals and other similar parts of the market, such as serviced apartments, are comparatively low-risk when it comes to Covid-19, in part because they allow for effective social distancing and also have a comparatively low number of touch points.

Many short-term rentals are self-contained properties, which guests can access via a car, minimising the use of public transport and contact with others.

With it being expected that international travel to and from the UK will be severely restricted for the next few months, especially with the new quarantine rules in play, the industry believes that allowing short-term rentals to operate will give owners and small businesses in this sector a chance to start generating vital revenue.

What’s more, the STAA argues that they could gradually bringing their staff back to work and become less reliant on government support such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, as well as bringing a much-needed injection of expenditure into local communities and businesses that depend heavily on tourism for their livelihoods.

“There is a unique opportunity for UK holidaymakers to visit UK destinations, including both city and rural locations,” Karr said. “With short-term rentals providing socially distanced accommodation and cities being quieter, without the usual hustle and bustle, it’s a great time for people across the country to explore all the UK has to offer.”

The main areas of guidance provided by the cleaning protocols include:

Risk assessment

  • The core principle of the guidance is risk management which is why a risk assessment of the property is the first thing that needs to be done. Broadly speaking, it involves identifying potential risks within a property and taking active steps to mitigate those risks.

Cleaning

  • Cleaners must wear appropriate protective clothing, avoid using microfibre cleaning cloths and instead use disposable sanitising wipes because they are less likely to spread the infection accidentally. They must use products which both sanitise and disinfect and keep any contact with guests to an absolute minimum.

  • It’s recommended that a cleaning checklist is given to cleaners with a clear set of instructions to follow, guidance on the basic materials and equipment to be used and specific areas that cleaners should be mindful of. It also suggests providing a cleaning standards tick list for incoming guests to show what has been cleaned.

Guest contact

  • Contact may sometimes be inevitable - e.g. when checking passports/IDs. In these circumstances, operators should wear protective clothing and maintain a safe social distance (2 metres) whenever possible. Operators should consider using contact-free check-in methods, such as key safes, although they must be mindful that such methods still pose a contamination risk.

  • Operators should ensure that guests have all of the relevant information that they need ahead of their arrival. Tips include providing information for guests via email before they arrive such as helpful numbers and contacts, guidance in case a guest shows Covid-19 symptoms, a list of local walks/attractions that are open under social distancing rules and appliance and heating instructions.

Poll: Will short-term lets become an attractive investment option again once the sector opens?

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