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Booking.com took the unusual step this month of requiring alternative accommodation partners that want to list properties on its site and app to commit to a minimal cleanliness score according to guidelines it has issued, the company revealed on Thursday.

“Through this program, we will support alternative accommodation properties with cleanliness scores of less than 6 – which account for less than a percentage point in the number of properties on Booking.com – as they commit and work to improve their score over the next six months by delivering detailed resources and guidance to them,” said Eric Bergaglia, who leads Booking.com’s homes and apartments business globally.

It’s the first time the online travel agency has required suppliers of travel inventory to conform to cleanliness guidelines of its own devising. Hotels are exempt. The guidelines apply to vacation homes, short-term rentals, and similar properties.

Airbnb’s Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, which we reported on earlier, became mandatory for all hosts globally on Friday. That cleaning protocol is of Airbnb’s design.

Booking.com doesn’t prescribe any specific cleaning protocol but offers instead a series of best practices, and tools to help communicate with, and manage, cleaners.

If a host gets bad reviews for a mold issue, for example, then a host can either apply the best practices proposed for mold, or not, and that host certainly doesn’t have to apply other best practices that may not apply to them. The only thing that will determine whether that host is delisted or not by Booking.com are the guest cleaning reviews, averaged over a period of time.

“With use of the words ‘clean’ and ‘hygiene’ increasing by more than 60 percent on our platform since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of our Minimal Cleanliness Score Commitment reflects our continued commitment to ensure traveler peace of mind and a new approach to quality assurance on our platform,” Bergaglia said.

Health and hygiene are a top priority for travelers during the pandemic. Booking.com has worked with quality assurance platform Properly since 2019 to help it identify helpful support and resources to share with property managers working to improve their cleanliness scores.

Now the online travel giant has partnered with Properly to create a more than 20 cleaning checklists, available in 30 languages, which provide guides. Booking.com is also giving partners who take part discounted access to the Properly mobile app, which could help make it easier to improve their cleanliness score.

If property managers dispute the result of a score, what’s their conflict resolution process?

“Based on customer feedback, progress toward cleanliness improvements will be monitored through verified guest reviews, with cleanliness scores being an average determined by these reviews, given by travelers who have booked and stayed at the property,” Bergaglia said. “This active guest feedback loop ensures that only properties which live up to the minimal cleanliness quality remain available for guests to book.”

Earlier this year, in response to the pandemic, Booking.com made key product updates to make it simple for properties to display precautionary pandemic-related measures. The company said that more than 14 million listings on Booking.com’s sites and apps having now implemented health and safety measures.

“Ultimately, because our program is based on that active feedback loop, we believe that our partners will see the fruits of their efforts reflected in guest reviews as they continue to improve their cleanliness scores,” Bergaglia said. “Our teams are also always on-hand to support our partners 24/7, whenever and wherever they need us should they have questions.”

When hosts and property managers are provided with long and complex protocols, the result is often low compliance, said Alex Nigg, founder of Properly. So Booking.com aims to help the overwhelmed managers through this targeted program.

Photo Credit: A villa for rent on booking service OneFineStay, owned by Accor, and located in Saint Barthelemy, a French-speaking Caribbean island commonly known as St. Barts. Booking.com took the unusual step on Thursday of requiring alternative accommodation partners to commit to a minimal cleanliness score. OneFineStay