UK: With the UK Government provisionally earmarking 4 July as the date when certain sectors of the travel and hospitality industry can re-open, the short-term accommodation sector is preparing itself for a safe and successful restart by implementing the new ‘Cleaning protocols for self-catering properties and short-term lets in the context of Covid-19’.
The protocols have been developed collaboratively by a number of industry bodies including the UK Short Term Accommodation Association [UK STAA], the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, Quality in Tourism, the Professional Association of Self-Caterers and the Wales Tourism Alliance.
In a recent statement made by the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS], Oliver Dowden said: “I am keen that we get the tourism sector going as rapidly as possible. We have set the ambitious target of 4 July, 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.”
*1 The industry now wants to ensure 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 governments for approval to augment the hospitality guidance developed by UK Hospitality at a national level. They are supported by a number of the UK’s tourism bodies and are based on guidance provided by organisations such as the Health & Safety Executive [HSE], World Health Organisation [WHO] and Public Health England*2.
The STAA believes that 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 UK STAA and CEO 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.
“I agree with Minister 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. For operators and hosts, one of the best steps they can take is to get independently accredited by our STAA industry partner, Quality in Tourism, through its Safe, Clean and Legal™ assessment scheme that will demonstrate to potential guests that they have been independently assessed to meet these standards,” she added.
Chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, Fiona Campbell, said: “These protocols will allow our sector to re-open 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 £723m each year in revenue.
“As we gradually begin to ease lockdown restrictions, we need to make sure that the correct balance of rules and freedoms is maintained and these protocols will form a key part in ensuring that balance,” she added.
The new industry cleaning protocols provide high-level principles to follow in preparing a property correctly for incoming guests and cleaning it during and after their stay. They focus 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, which has Primary Authority status in partnership with Cornwall Council, shows 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.
Deborah Heather, director of Quality in Tourism, said: “It’s great to be partnering with the industry on these protocols to help everyone in the sector to understand how to welcome guests safely. We look forward to working with hosts and management companies to provide the independent quality assessment that guests will be looking for so that they can have the highest degree of confidence that standards are being met.
“Guests will know, for certain, that hosts who are accredited by our Safe, Clean and Legal™ assessment scheme, which includes Covid-19 cleaning regimes, guidance notes, checklists and risk assessments in conjunction with Environmental Health, will provide a home which is compliant and safe for them and their families,” she added.
With international travel, both in and out of the UK, expected to be severely restricted for the next few months, allowing short-term rentals to operate will give owners and small businesses in the short-term rental ecosystem a chance to begin earning vital revenue. They will be gradually bringing their staff back to work and becoming less reliant on government support such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
It will also bring a much-needed injection of expenditure into local communities and businesses that depend heavily on tourism for their livelihoods.
Karr said: “There is a unique opportunity for UK holidaymakers to visit UK destinations, including both city and rural destinations. 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:
- 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.
- Cleaners must wear appropriate protective clothing, avoid using microfiber 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 is 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.
- 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 [two 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.
*1 The protocols are supported by the Tourism Alliance, the Scottish Tourism Alliance and the Welsh Association of Self-Catering Operators and are based on guidance provided by organisations such as the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), WHO (World Health Organisation), European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), Centres for Disease Control (CDC), NIH (National Institutes of Health), NHS (National Health Service).
*2 House of Commons Hansard, 4 June 2020, Volume 676