By Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism (www.qualityintourism.com)
Your eyes may well have watered at Airbnb’s $100 billion valuation after making its US stock market debut last month, but concerns have been raised by a top QC that the company’s small print avoids any responsibility for the safety – and even the legal compliance – of the accommodation it offers, stating that “consumers are at risk in using Airbnb”.
The lawyer isn’t alone; senior industry figures have joined him in urging the government to take note, claiming that Airbnb are putting their guests at risk and calling for consumers to be given the protection they deserve, warning that the UK’s tourism reputation is in danger while ever such huge ‘black holes’ in safety are allowed.
With the sector already on its knees, this has flagged up the importance for the hospitality sector in taking responsibility and extending guests’ safety to include Covid-19 secure operating, as the industry re- opens its doors in 2021.This isn’t just for fairness to guests but also to level the playing-field for businesses.
RE-SETTING THE BENCHMARK
The pandemic has redefined what was the so-called status quo on cleanliness and when we finally emerge from the darkness of the past year, new standards must be set to meet guests’ higher expectations. ‘Trust’ formed through online reviews will no longer be the benchmark. For the first time, guests (and many of the bottom-end operators) are perceiving the reality of true cleanliness; they are considering the implications of unseen pathogens and viruses, and wondering for the first time whether the places that they visit are actually clean or not. 2021 represents our single shot to establish the post-pandemic reputation of the industry, as one that really and truly puts guest safety first, rather than the one where you can ‘never be sure’ because of a select few operators.
While operators usually take pride in their cleanliness and will have robust cleaning protocols regardless of their guests’ understanding, what about the unscrupulous operators which cut corners, yet achieve the same ‘five star’ feedback as one that goes the extra mile, simply because customers on the whole only consider domestic cleaning?
At the start of the pandemic, operators and their guests needed a sign that booking was still safe.This gave rise to a number of certification schemes for operators, most famously the ‘Good to Go’ scheme from VisitBritain.The focus of these schemes was to establish a set of agreed guidelines and standards, and to permit operators to self-certify that they would meet these standards. Operators signed up in their droves,
but the problem with self-certification is that there is zero accountability.While many of the operators have and continue to deliver exceptional standards for their guests, self-certification allows outliers to tarnish the entire reputation of the scheme.Think unethical operators who just tick to pass, those who genuinely believe they are doing the right thing, but simply don’t know the difference, and those with good intentions, but whose standards simply begin to slip. Every time a sub-standard operator continues within the scheme, it simply downgrades the reputation of that scheme until frankly, it is worthless.
MORE ROBUSTNESS NEEDED
An investigation released by consumer watchdog Which? conducted swab tests to determine the cleanliness of a number of hotel rooms with ‘enhanced’ cleaning practices.They found that remote controls, door handles, plug sockets, kettles & coffee mugs had not been thoroughly cleaned in between guest stays. In the bathroom, the taps, soap dispenser, toilet brush and flush also glowed red. What is not clear is whether the hotels in question sought to deliberately mislead guests, or whether it was simply good intentions, badly executed, but the outcome is the same.Which? state that self-certification is simply not good enough, and the whole Good to Go scheme has lost credibility.The industry deserves better.We deserve relevant, enforceable, and account- able schemes, involving comprehensive 3rd party professional checks which hold all operators to the same standards, and which don’t allow the ‘well-intentioned’ or deliberately misleading to slip through the net.
Only by maximising standards and holding all operators to account will we ensure that the reputation of the sector remains intact. I’d like to see the UK become a trailblazer in tourism standards, showing the rest of the world how post-pandemic standards are done.