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If you're used to staying in hotels — and suddenly you're presented with the option to rent an Airbnb on your next vacation — you may be wondering, “Is Airbnb safe?” "Is Airbnb protecting my information?” “Can I trust the Airbnb host?”
And for folks concerned about COVID-19 or the spread of other infectious diseases, is a hotel a better option?
Here’s a breakdown of whether or not staying at an Airbnb is a safe option both in terms of physical health and in terms of personal safety — and what you can do to help protect yourself and those around you when you travel.
Is Airbnb safe for guests?
Airbnb is no longer a small, niche booking platform involving quirky stays in locals’ spare rooms (though that’s still an option, of course). Instead, it’s grown to a booking behemoth with an estimated 2 million people reserving stays in homes every night in 100,000 cities and 191 countries. There are more than 6 million listings around the world, which — according to Airbnb — is more than the available number of rooms in the top five hotel chains combined. To put that in context, Marriott, the largest hotel company in the world, has roughly 1.4 million rooms worldwide.
Given the nature of Airbnb — and how varied an Airbnb stay is versus a hotel stay — Airbnb goes to great lengths to outline its numerous safety guidelines in place to protect travelers. They include:
A secure payment and communication platform protects guests’ contact and payment information (you should always handle transactions within Airbnb's secure platform, rather than paying outside of Airbnb, such as with cash). There’s multi-factor authentication when logging in from a new phone or computer, plus Airbnb will send account alerts when changes are made.
That said, Airbnb isn't completely foolproof. A 2021 research project at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the University of Colorado School of Public Affairs in Colorado Springs looked at public Airbnb guest complaints published to Twitter between 2015 and 2020, and found more than 28,000 complaints around scams, and more than 7,700 complaints about unsafe conditions.
Safety from the actual homes
Hosts are offered a free smoke and carbon monoxide detector if they don’t already have them. Use Airbnb's filter function to ensure your home has one when searching for listings.
That said, Airbnb doesn't necessarily guarantee that all homes have every safety feature you might want. Airbnb does not necessarily inspect properties for other important safety features such as having at least two exits out of every room, or whether appliances and heating systems are up to code.
And while some properties do offer them, not all Airbnbs include features that might keep you and your stuff safe, like, well, a safe. And while Airbnbs are far less likely than hotels to have 24/7 lobby staffing, Airbnb does offer a 24-hour safety line you can access through the app through its AirCover program, which launched in 2021.
Safety from other people
Hosts and guests are run through regulatory, terrorist and sanctions watchlists, plus background checks of hosts are conducted in the U.S. Airbnb uses machine learning to analyze data with the intent to spot suspicious activity such as fraudulent listings.
Additionally, a global customer service team is available 24/7 to help with booking assistance, refunds, reimbursements, insurance and more.
» Learn more: Is an Airbnb or a hotel right for your next trip?
Is Airbnb safe for hosts?
Airbnb has experienced what experts have coined the “party house problem,” where large properties morph into sites for raucous parties that sometimes get out of hand. For example, a deadly shooting in 2019 at a Northern California Airbnb made national headlines. Stories such as those haven't been exactly encouraging for potential hosts to decide to list their own property on Airbnb.
That said, Airbnb made big strides in 2021 when it launched AirCover, a program designed to help both guests and hosts. AirCover includes guest identity verification and $3 million in damage protection to better protect hosts from issues that guests may cause. There's also auto & boat protection for items parked and stored on your property, as well as a fairly wide range of art and valuable protection that can repair or replace those items at appraised value.
And at the end of 2022, Airbnb launched its proprietary reservation screening technology in the U.S. and Canada, which helps reduce the chance of disruptive parties. The company said it intends to expand its reservation screening technology worldwide in Spring 2023.
Is it safe to stay in an Airbnb during COVID-19?
The above measures ensure guests and hosts are safe from each other — and that properties are safe from other disasters. But what about safety concerns around COVID-19?
Many travelers with COVID-19 concerns have preferred single-dwelling rentals in the past few years. And for good reason: Several medical professionals cited them as safer than hotels. After all, these sorts of stays often mean fewer common areas to navigate and little to no interaction with staff or other guests.
Plus, Airbnb set additional COVID-19 safety practices at the beginning of the pandemic. A five-step enhanced cleaning protocol is required for all hosts. This includes:
Ventilating the space between guests.
Using approved disinfectants.
Vacuuming and/or dusting before sanitizing.
Cleaning hard surfaces with soap and water.
Laundering on the highest heat setting possible.
Washing hands before cleaning and before replacing supplies and linens.
Not entering a room after it’s been cleaned.
Additionally, both guests and hosts are required to wear masks and social distance in common areas if local guidelines require it. They are also requested not to host or visit an Airbnb if testing positive or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Airbnb says it will reprimand hosts who don’t adhere to these protocols with warnings, suspensions or account removal. However, the company will likely only find out through guest complaints, so it’s important for guests to report violations and share information in reviews.
While Airbnb did ease up on cancellation policies in the first couple years of the pandemic, Airbnb cancellation policies have larger reverted back to their pre-pandemic ways. For stays and Airbnb Experiences made on or after May 31, 2022, the host’s cancellation policy will apply, and COVID-19 related circumstances will not be covered under Airbnb's extenuating circumstances policy.
» Learn more: Alternatives to Airbnb for when you want other options
Quick tips for a safer Airbnb stay
While Airbnb is a safe option for accommodation when traveling, there are plenty of things you can do to further protect yourself as you explore.
Never give your personal contact information to a host or pay outside of the platform. Always pay and communicate through the Airbnb website or app. This will protect your personal information through Airbnb’s multi-layer defense strategy.
Ask questions about listings before booking or arrival. This can help you get to know your host, ensure they are abiding by proper cleaning and COVID-19 safety protocols, and clarify any questions you might have about the stay, location, check-in process, etc. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t book.
Send your itinerary to a trusted person. If you’re traveling solo and nervous about it, tell a friend or family member where and when you’re going and share the listing with them.
Check the reviews for information about the host and home. Former guests will often offer feedback based on their own recent experience, including in regards to health and safety, which can inform and bring peace of mind.
Bring disinfecting spray or wipes. Use them when you arrive if you’re worried about thorough cleaning of high-touch points.
Book an entire place or a completely private room. If you’re worried about COVID-19 transmission, find a place with no shared entrances or spaces.
Book a stay with a flexible cancellation policy. If you decide not to travel due to the pandemic (or any other reason), you can cancel without losing all of your investment.
» Learn more: Best credit cards for Airbnb
The bottom line on Airbnb safety
How safe is Airbnb? Whether it’s your personal information or health that you want to protect, Airbnb is usually as safe as staying in a hotel and can even, at times, be safer. There are enhanced cleaning protocols in place to help prevent disease transmission, there are secure messaging and payment platforms, and there's plenty of opportunity to connect with hosts, read reviews and contact Airbnb if plans change.
Of course, all forms of travel and lodging come with their own risks, so do thorough research and come prepared.
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