How Airbnb Hosts Can Respond to the Cleaning Fee Crisis

There have been plenty of funny tweets and memes about cleaning fees this year. And it seems that Airbnb has finally taken notice and adjusted its search function to allow for guests to display search results with cleaning fees included. But how did we get to this point and how can hosts respond going forward to maximize their bookings and revenue?

How It Started

When Airbnbs first came on the scene, there weren’t yet a lot of professional cleaning companies helping to service them. Consumers were still figuring out the model and hosts were learning to be hosts. As Airbnb became mainstream (and even became a part of speech people used) standards went way up. Guests started to expect hotel-level cleanliness in vacation rentals and hosts that didn’t provide that were punished in reviews which led to fewer bookings.

That’s when companies like MaidThis started to bloom to help out. We were already doing residential cleaning but so many of our customers asked us to help with their short-term rentals and we were able to offer automation for them so that one more piece of their vacation rental business could be easier.

How It’s Going

Naturally, hosts began charging cleaning fees that were often just pass-throughs to cover the cost of cleaning. Unlike hotels, which have cleaning staff that show up every single day and only have to clean a limited space, vacation rentals are each one of a kind, and don’t have the economies of scale that hotels have. Cleaning costs more for vacation rentals because the cost of cleaning can’t be spread out over dozens or hundreds of rooms. 

While Airbnb reports that 45% of listings worldwide do not charge a cleaning fee, at least one study suggests that only 15% of US listings don’t have a cleaning fee, and that the median cleaning fee per listing per night is $75.

Those with vacation rentals will consider that median price to be fairly low, given the difficulty of finding reliable cleaners who will clean to a hotel-clean standard.

What Hosts Can Do

It’s clear that the chore lists have become a very sore spot for guests, leading some of them to name and shame hosts. What may have seemed reasonable in the past, like asking people to put dishes in the dishwasher or to take out the trash, have now become disputed by guests who feel that the “cleaning fee” means that they can treat an STR like a hotel.

There is no “right” or “wrong” answer here. There’s only what the market is signaling, and that’s a frustration with the trend of “high” cleaning fees and lengthy chore lists. Hosts should respond accordingly. 

Here are three different ways hosts can respond to the cleaning fee crisis:

  • Trim chore lists down to bare minimums
  • Consider integrating your cleaning fee into your nightly rate so that you are displayed favorably in the new search functionality in Airbnb
  • Be transparent with guests and explain what the cleaning fees are for: making sure that you are delivering hotel-level cleanliness for each guest, and unlike hotels, this can’t be done for very low fees

Notice that in none of these scenarios do we advise getting rid of the cost of the cleaning fees. Airbnbs are not hotels and while some would try to make vacation rentals exactly equivalent, they are not. It’s not reasonable for hosts to eat the cost of cleaning, but it is reasonable for hosts to respond to market trends and signals.

This content originally appeared in our twice-monthly Guest Book Newsletter.

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