When shelter-in-place orders went into effect across the country in March, many Americans quickly sought refunds for hotel bookings, airfare and travel expenses. But now that states have relaxed some social-distancing measures, Americans have gone full-circle and are planning road trips.
That trend may be here to stay as “travel will never, ever go back to the way it was pre-COVID,” said Airbnb Inc. co-founder and Chief Executive Brian Chesky.
But when it comes to lodging, you might be faced with this question: Is it safer to stay at an Airbnb or a hotel?
Leaving your home for any reason increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19, and travel is certainly no exception. That’s why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention holds that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick.”
But if appropriate precautions and considerations are taken into account in advance, you shouldn’t write off a summer getaway entirely, said Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo.
“We need to balance sanity and risk,” Russo said. “It’s important for us to get out and reemerge from our caves but we need to do so safely.”
The CDC encourages you to consider some of these questions if you are planning a trip.
Before embarking on a trip, “travelers should research the local effects in any area they are planning to visit,” said Scott Pauley, a spokesman for the CDC. “The best source for those localized reports are the local health departments for the area they are traveling.”
For instance, in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut people arriving from states like Texas, Arizona and Florida will have to self-isolate for 14 days.
‘We need to balance sanity and risk.’
Thomas Russo, University at Buffalo
If you do travel, the CDC recommends you “pick up food at drive-throughs, curb-side restaurant service, or stores,” and practice regular social-distancing protocols, including wearing face coverings in public places.
Traveling with the people you’ve been sheltering in place with, be it family or roommates, Russo referred to as a “fixed risk.” Simply getting in a car with them won’t increase your chances of contracting coronavirus anymore than watching TV at home.
Traveling with people from outside your household, however, increases the risk of spreading the virus, he said. Consider whether you’ll be interacting with someone who is more at risk of contracting coronavirus after your vacation, he added, including older adults and people with underlying health conditions.
The case for staying at an Airbnb over a hotel
Given that person-to-person contact is believed to be the main way coronavirus spreads, experts recommend driving yourself as opposed to traveling by bus, train or airplane. “You’re bound to have fewer interactions with people than you would if you were flying,” Russo said.
For the same reason, Russo recommends staying at an Airbnb or Airbnb equivalent over a hotel. “In a hotel, it’s inevitable that you’ll have more interactions than at an Airbnb,” he said.
Hotels are offering contactless check-ins, but elevators, narrow hallways and the risk of coming into contact with cleaning and administrative staff can make it hard to keep six feet apart from other people.
If travel from the U.S. into Canada wasn’t currently restricted, he said, he would have taken the vacation he booked to British Columbia, where he had planned to stay at a home he rented through VRBO, a home rental site owned by Expedia /zigman2/quotes/202291990/composite EXPE -3.09% .
In late April, Airbnb rolled out an “Enhanced Cleaning Initiative” , a set of protocols for hosts to follow which were designed by former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
‘The beauty of Airbnb is that each property is unique and each host has a lot of discretion.’
Sheryl Kline, University of Delaware
Hosts are not required to follow the protocols, but those who do “will get a special call-out on their listing page, so guests will know they’ve committed to following more rigorous cleaning and sanitization practices,” an Airbnb post states.
Hosts are also encouraged to share with their guests that they taking extra care to sanitize their space due to COVID-19, but “you can’t make unsubstantiated claims, like calling your space ‘COVID-free’,” the company said.
That’s in line with Airbnb’s business model, said Sheryl Kline, a professor at the University of Delaware who has researched hotel hygiene.
“The beauty of Airbnb is that each property is unique and each host has a lot of discretion when it comes to creating the guest experience when renting their properties.” That may come with a downside, however. “This flexibility means they do not have the same set of standards as large hotel companies,” she added.
Given that Airbnb doesn’t inspect the rental properties listed on its platform, it will have to “rely on the word of the hosts to determine if these new cleaning protocols are followed.”
“I would consider staying at an Airbnb if it had a four-day buffer between guests, was cleaned using their new protocols and if I rented the entire space and did not share it with the host,” she said.
The case for staying at a hotel
Hotels have less discretion when it comes to cleaning rooms, said Chip Rogers, CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
In early May the association introduced industrywide cleaning standards , which Rogers said were reviewed by the CDC. These guidelines are meant to be “baseline standards that can be applied to every hotel across the country.”
The 16 largest hotel groups in the country including Marriott /zigman2/quotes/200170042/composite MAR -4.34% , Hilton /zigman2/quotes/202780307/composite HLT -1.68% and Hyatt /zigman2/quotes/207542923/composite H -4.17% have all signed off on these standards and were involved in setting them.
Also see: ‘Opening up does not mean social activities’: Your coronavirus guide to safely commuting, shopping, traveling and visiting the doctor as states reopen
Kline said that these hotels “have dramatically improved their cleaning protocols,” compared to pre-coronavirus days. “They have implemented housekeeping training programs and use the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended cleaners and disinfectants.”
“I would feel comfortable staying at a major chain hotel because of the standardization of hotel operating procedures,” she said.
Best practices to follow no matter where you decide to stay
Regardless of whether you choose to stay at a hotel or an Airbnb, “it is a good idea to take your own cleaning and sanitizing products and re-clean those areas that are high-touch areas,” Kline said.
High-touch areas she said include doorknobs, light switches, telephones, remote-control devices, tabletops and bathroom fixtures.
It’s not necessary to bring your own linens and towels “if you are staying at a reputable hotel or home rental.” In fact, bed linens are “most likely the cleanest item in the guest room because they are washed [after] each guest and most likely washed and changed daily,” Kline said.
However, she said she wouldn’t use the bedspread, bed scarf or decorative pillows since “they may not be washed as frequently.” Alternatively, you could always ask for them to be replaced.
And when checking in? Experts recommending bringing your own pen.