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Airbnb Mulls Removing Cleaning Fees as a Separate Charge

An Airbnb in Utrecht, the Netherlands, as seen on July 15, 2017. Airbnb is trying to address the issue of high cleaning fees.  Umair Abassi / Flickr.com
An Airbnb in Utrecht, the Netherlands, as seen on July 15, 2017. Airbnb is trying to address the issue of high cleaning fees. Umair Abassi / Flickr.com

Among the options that Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky is mulling to remedy what he said is a “huge problem,” namely cleaning fees, is giving hosts the ability to levy “variable” cleaning fees.

He’d even like to see cleaning fees, which are set by hosts, eliminated as a line item in the total price when guests get ready to book a stay.

“Actually I’d like a customer to never see a cleaning fee,” Chesky told journalist Kara Swisher in a pre-recorded session aired in her On with Kara Swisher podcast last month. “So we do want hosts to be able to say I need to add this fixed cost but when you go to Airbnb in the future, I’d like you just to see taxes and ideally nothing else, and that’s where we want to get to.”

His comments about variable cleaning fees, or eliminating them in the detailed list of fees, potentially incorporating them into the nightly rate, didn’t get attention at the time.

Chesky said Airbnb is crafting “a lot of things” to change pricing — and the way they appear in listings and on maps — some of which relate to cleaning fees. He’s already committed to enabling guests to opt in to view the total price of a stay, including the nightly rate, service charges and cleaning fees, starting sometime in December.

“One of the things is we want to create a variable cleaning fee,” Chesky told Swisher. “So if you have 10 kids who are staying a month that’s probably a bigger cleaning fee. If it’s a single guy with a golden retriever for three days that’s probably a lower cleaning fee.“

Hosts already have the ability to charge a standard cleaning fee regardless of the duration of the reservation; to lower that fee for short stays; or to forego the cleaning fee in favor of a higher nightly rate, for example.

Most hosts don’t charge a cleaning fee, according to Airbnb — but many do, and they can sometimes appear exorbitant. For example, for an upcoming three-night stay in a Seattle townhouse, the nightly rate is $99, or $297 for the three nights, and the cleaning fee is $150.

Airbnb has been the subject of intense criticism in recent years over cleaning fees, which don’t appear in the nightly rate, and often inflate the total price when a guest books a property. Some hosts see them as a profit center to recoup costs, but that sometimes hurts their abilities to attract bookings.

Regulators in Europe pressured Airbnb some time ago to show the total price of a stay up-front in search results in the European Union.

“Vrbo has been displaying the total cost (excluding tax) of booking whole homes on our site and app for years and travelers do not have to opt in to see this,” a Vrbo spokesperson said. “We’re happy to see others in the vacation rental industry become more transparent about pricing, too.”

Chesky said cleaning fees on Airbnb are often two to three times higher in Europe than they are in the U.S., and they “got out of control.”

Airbnb would have to change its terms and conditions to mandate changes in cleaning fee procedures, but it’s unclear that the company would do so. These terms and conditions state: “Airbnb does not direct or control your Host Service, and you agree that you have complete discretion whether and when to provide Host Services, and at what price and on what terms to offer them.”

It is expected that Airbnb will soon unveil tools to help hosts better understand pricing, including cleaning fees. Making their properties more competitively priced helps hosts, and Airbnb.

Chesky said Airbnb wants to better equip hosts to understand the pricing of their homes. “A lot of hosts have no idea what they are charging,” Chesky said.

He said Airbnb will have big updates related to pricing in the next few months.

Airbnb is taking a “really wholistic approach to cleaning fees,” he said.

From a guest standpoint, some of these changes can’t come soon enough.

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