If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.
- Summer travel is poised to make a big comeback in 2021.
- Both Airbnbs and hotels are open and welcoming travelers with stringent new cleaning protocols.
- So which is safer: Airbnb vs. hotels? We asked doctors about the lodging they’d book themselves.
Travel is shaping up to have a major comeback this summer as more Americans become vaccinated, and in response to new CDC guidelines that say fully vaccinated individuals can now safely travel in the US.
As a result, many will likely book that long-postponed family vacation, romantic getaway, or bucket list trip. Of course, the novel coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon, and safety in travel will still be top of mind.
Fortunately, when it comes to safe lodging, travelers have many choices, and all of them are actively courting business with sweeping new policies and protocols.
Many large hotel chains have announced big changes to cleaning policies, and Airbnb requires that all hosts and guests commit to their Enhanced Clean program, which includes wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and abiding by a five-step enhanced cleaning process.
However, there is still an element of risk. After all, travelers who preferred hotels for on-demand housekeeping, room service, and impressive on-site amenities may now view those same person-to-person interactions as liabilities. Similarly, in an Airbnb, everything from bedsheets to a fork was previously used by another person.
To help determine the safest lodging for travelers during COVID-19, we spoke with doctors, whose conclusions represented a consensus.
Are hotels and Airbnb safe during COVID-19 in 2021?
When making arrangements for overnight lodging – as with any other decision you make when leaving your house during the pandemic – consider that the most significant risk you can encounter is direct contact with other people.
And when you’re traveling, you’re likely to encounter not only other humans but those who come from backgrounds and locations unfamiliar to you.
“The first thing that potentially opens up risk is running into other people that you have no idea what their infectious status is,” explains Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo. “We know now that there’s a lot of people who get the coronavirus who have no symptoms at all who could potentially transmit it. Therefore, you have to assume that anyone you encounter that you don’t know could be potentially infectious.”
Are pools safe during COVID?
When it comes to pools, beach chairs, and other amenities found at Airbnbs and hotels, “other bodies are the main concern,” Dr. Russo says, as opposed to the water in the pool.
So, your safest leisure-time bet would be a chaise completely away from the crowd, a bike for a solo ride, or a swim in the chlorinated pool of a private Airbnb with no other guests present. To help with that, we rounded up some of the best Airbnbs in the US with private pools.
Is it safe to eat in a restaurant?
In hotels, unless you have a suite with a kitchen, all dining will be done either in a restaurant or through takeout. Our experts said the safest option in a hotel would be no-contact room service or other delivery.
In an Airbnb, you can prepare your own food, which is both safer and cost-saving, although remember with this style of lodging you can expect an additional cleaning fee. Increased fees post-pandemic have been in the range of $250, and that’s just for cleaning, in addition to service fees and the like.
Again, no matter what lodging you pick, the main thing you’ll want to consider is the likelihood you’ll encounter other people and the number and length of such encounters. Plus, factor in the location, and if possible, avoid regions with high rates of infection.
“When booking any type of lodging, consider how many people you’ll be surrounded by, when was the last time someone stayed in that accommodation, and how is the state or city doing in regards to flattening the curve,” said Dr. Neil Brown, K Health‘s chief diagnosis officer.
What can I do to minimize the risk of COVID-19 while staying at a hotel or Airbnb?
Whether you choose an Airbnb or a hotel, be aware of high-touch areas that might facilitate virus transmission.
In both Airbnbs and hotels, these might include light switches, phones, TV remotes, doorknobs, sinks, bathroom faucets, and toilet handles. Additionally, look out for flat surfaces like bedside tables. “If someone was sick in the room and coughing, [those are among] flat surfaces it could settle onto,” Dr. Russo notes.
If you’re going to use kitchen items in Airbnbs, Dr. Russo suggests running them through the dishwasher just in case, an action that would neutralize the virus.
The virus is likely to settle out of the air quickly – about one to three hours under experimental conditions, and possibly much less in the real world – Dr. Russo notes. So that means the air quality is not likely to be a major concern in either a hotel room or an Airbnb if you are the only one in it. Nevertheless, you can mitigate your risk in both by insisting upon a margin of time passing since the last guest was in the space.
With Airbnb, look to book homes that have an Enhanced Cleaning badge, indicating they have committed to following Airbnb’s COVID-19 safety practices. This includes wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and, for hosts and their teams, abiding by a five-step enhanced cleaning process.
Similarly, look for hotels with impressive new cleaning protocols and policies such as keeping rooms empty between guests, or specifically request a room that’s been vacant for a day or more.
Without explicitly stated buffers, hotels may indeed turn guest rooms around faster than Airbnb. But if you were to check into a room in which an infected person stayed right before you arrived, and the housekeeping crew did clean and sanitize everything according to guidelines, you would “probably” escape risk, Dr. Russo said, “but that’s not an ideal scenario.”
“I think it’s great that hotels are taking initiative and hiring these experts to help them implement better cleaning protocols,” he said. “But my biggest concern is the amount of traffic going through these hotels.”
Plus, there is the matter that stated policies ideally will be executed in good faith by every member of the hotel staff, and every Airbnb host or cleaner, in every instance. But that cannot be guaranteed by each individual arriving guest.
What do CDC guidelines say about hotels vs. Airbnbs?
According to the CDC’s current guidelines for lodging options, the lowest risk option is, of course, staying at home.
However, the guidelines list “staying in a house or cabin (for example, a vacation rental) with people from your household or fully vaccinated people” as “Safer.” However, it’s important to note that this is specifically for booking vacation rentals and Airbnbs only with people from your household.
Both hotels and vacation rentals that you share with people who are not vaccinated or are outside of your household are in the “Less Safe” category.
Bottom line, which is safer: hotels or Airbnbs?
The doctors we spoke with agreed that one lodging option is safer than the other as a general rule, because the main risk in coronavirus transmission is directly from person to person. And you are more likely to have person-to-person encounters in hotels compared with private Airbnbs. So the experts we spoke to agree with the CDC guidelines that the safer option is Airbnbs.
“While there is no question hotels are working diligently to keep their hotels clean and sanitized, Airbnb has a huge advantage given that the renter is generally the only one occupying the property,” said Dr. Brown. “With Airbnb’s new Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, the company provides a better option than public hotel spaces. Airbnb homes are more private, so there is a lesser chance of being exposed to the coronavirus.”
Dr. Brown does suggest confirming your listing meets Airbnb’s new cleaning protocol even though it is now a requirement for all hosts. “I would double-check to see if the host is participating in the policies,” he said.
Dr. Russo “absolutely agree[s]” that staying in a private Airbnb, especially one that allows no-contact check-in, such as through a lockbox, is the safer option now, given the probability of fewer person-to-person encounters.
Whatever lodging option you choose – if you choose to travel – both doctors recommend undertaking a serious consideration of the risks versus rewards.
Dr. Russo said he would stay in an Airbnb, and as for a hotel, said, “I think so.” But if he had the potential to encounter anybody in person at any point in his travels, he’d definitely wear a mask and would weigh the importance of the trip to his quality of life before deciding to undertake it.
“If it’s a trip that is important and necessary, I feel relatively safe using the proper protective measures like wearing a mask, distancing, disinfecting, and hand hygiene,” he said, noting that individuals will have to weigh their own individual risk tolerance, risk factors, and risk-reward potential.
Dr. Brown voiced a somewhat more conservative view. “Personally, I would do my best to avoid traveling altogether, but if it is necessary, I would feel more comfortable staying at an Airbnb after doing my own disinfecting upon arrival,” he said. “At the end of the day, the only people we can trust to protect us are ourselves. So if there is no need to travel at the moment, I would recommend everyone to continue staying home.”
More reporting on if it is safe to travel right now
- Is travel safe? We interviewed experts on risks associated with flying, booking hotels or Airbnbs, renting cars, and more, plus ideas on safe vacations during COVID-19
- Is flying safe right now? Experts break down the risks associated with boarding a flight during COVID-19.
- Are Airbnbs safe? We spoke to experts, a company representative, and an Airbnb host to share everything you should know before booking someone’s home.
- Airbnb announced vigorous new cleaning protocols for hosts in response to COVID-19. Here’s how to know if the listing you’re considering is participating – or not.
- Is it safe to stay in a hotel right now? An infectious disease doctor, a cleaning expert, and hotel reps all share what you should know before you check-in.
- Are rental cars safe to drive right now? We talked to 3 leading experts to find out.
- Is it safe to travel by train during a pandemic? Doctors and cleaning experts weigh in, plus details on new protocols from Amtrak to minimize risks.
- Staying in a hotel will be very different post-pandemic – here are new safety and cleaning plans and precautions being implemented by every major hotel brand
- 6 safer, expert-backed ways to take a vacation during the pandemic, from road trips to private vacation homes and remote campsites