Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN WHYTE: You're watching "Coronavirus in Context." I'm Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD. Have your vacation plans changed at all this summer? Are you thinking about going to a hotel? What about an Airbnb? To answer some of your travel questions, I've asked Chris Lehane. He's the senior vise president of policy and communications at Airbnb. Chris, thanks for joining me.

CHRIS LEHANE: Dr. Whyte, it's an honor and pleasure, and really thank you and WebMD for all the stuff that you've been doing. I mean, it's amazing to see how many people are going to the site and the source to-- to be able to make smart decisions about their lives. So I really appreciate you, and really all the doctors and frontline responders out there. I mean, you know, just incredible what you've been doing. So we're grateful.

JOHN WHYTE: Well you know, people are searching a lot about travel on WebMD and-- and voters. And let's start off with, you know, you and I were chatting right before we came on. You're at an Airbnb today. Are Airbnbs safer than going to a hotel?

CHRIS LEHANE: People sort of understand that inherently, if you're having to choose an accommodation to go to-- people want to travel. They've been pent up. Traveling is innate to humans. You know, by the way, there's a whole separate conversation on the health aspects of making sure you're connecting and not lonely, all of those pieces. But they understand that when you get an Airbnb, you're getting a whole home. There's not the shared common spaces, you can get your own pool, you can be by a lake, at a beach.

This is really people who are typically driving within 300 miles of where they live. You know, that's almost 60% of the travel. What I think is really going on is that people do understand, you know, that Airbnbs themselves are inherently a safer travel option because you can drive there, have access to your own home, multiple bedrooms, your own kitchen, your own pool. And then on top of that, you know, we were one of the first players in the travel and tourism sector that put in place an enhanced cleaning protocol.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, let's talk about those safety measures. And let's be very practical, because you know, sometimes we use these terms that, you know, most viewers aren't--

CHRIS LEHANE: Yes, no one talks that way, yes.

JOHN WHYTE: Yeah, I recognize. So break it down for us. What are the safety measures that you're all doing? And also, how do you police that? Because it's somewhat decentralized, as well, isn't it? As a process. So how do you know that folks actually are doing what you're requiring them to do? So let's start off with, what are those enhanced cleaning methods we can-- the words we use. What are those cleaning methods?

CHRIS LEHANE: I'll try to do this in real people terms, like the term would use if you're talking with your family. First I'll just qualify to say that, you know, we really developed this in consultation with Dr. Vivek Murthy, who I'm sure you are aware of.

JOHN WHYTE: Right, former Surgeon General.

CHRIS LEHANE: Right, former Surgeon General of the United States. Obviously got input from the CDC and other really leading public health experts out there, so it was really informed by the best science and advice that we can get. But it basically breaks down into five elements. And again, I'll try to do this in real people language. The first is just making sure that, you know, whether you yourself are cleaning it or you have someone coming in to clean for you, that they have the right protective gear and also access to the right type of chemicals and cleaning products.

Obviously those have become more important than ever before. Then when you get to the actual cleaning, there's two additional steps. So step two is, what people have historically called cleaning often meant getting rid of clutter and dust. That still takes place, but then you get to a step three, which is the sanitizing piece of this, and making sure that people understand how you should be wiping the surfaces, making sure you're applying the chemicals that have been recommended so that you're getting the right chemicals on the right surfaces.

Obviously that is to take as many steps as you can to deal with the viral, virus aspect of this. Then you get to step four, which is what we call the reset. Change the-- the materials that you're using, change your gloves, change your mask. And then make sure that as you restock that particular listing, the toilet paper, stuff that may be in the refrigerator, stuff that may be paper products, that you are using new equipment when you do that to make sure that nothing is getting passed on.

And then the final stage that we recommend, and this is a little bit different depending where you are in the world, because we've gotten different inputs from the leading public health experts in those particular countries. But I'll use the US. Here in the US, it's recommended that there's a 24 hour time frame between when the last person, that cleaner, leaves the premises and when the guest arrives.

And the reason for that, and you know this as a doctor, but you know, the aerosol element tends to disintegrate and grade the longer the time period is between when someone has been in there and when a new person enters. Now different advice on what that should be in different parts of the world. 24 hours tends to be a little bit on the longer side, and that's what the CDC has looked at. And so that's what we have certainly recommended here in the US.

Then you get a second question, which is incredibly important as well, which is how do you make sure this is happening? There's a couple different ways that we do that. First of all, we do require hosts to attest that they are doing this. And that attestation, if they don't live up to it, you know, can lead to a removal of that particular host. Guests, in turn, can rate the host in terms of whether they felt it was safe and clean, so that's a little bit of a-- I'm going to get into a little tech speak. I hope you'll bear with me for a second.

But we are a two-sided platform. Hosts only do well if guests do well. Guests only do well if hosts invite them into their homes. And so the way the platform has always historically worked is that there is a natural alignment of interests. For hosts to continue to get business, they do want to deliver on being clean. In this case, healthy and clean. And, you know, those guests have an interest to make sure that they're rating these places pretty rigorously so that the whole community can benefit from that.

JOHN WHYTE: Do you have advice for guests? Or there's something that we should be doing on the day we check in to the Airbnb?

CHRIS LEHANE: Yes. I mean, what I typically advise-- this is what I certainly do. I'm in an Airbnb, you know, right now. I'm traveling with my wife and two teenage boys. I tend to check in, to make sure that there's that time period that I'm comfortable with in terms of the--

JOHN WHYTE: Do they know? Do they know your job before you check it?

CHRIS LEHANE: They do not. No, I purposely-- we have this phrase. And I hope you'll-- you'll bear with me at this point. You know, try your own dog food, right? That probably sounded a little bit better pre-pandemic than it does when you're in the pandemic, but-- but the point is like you really want to test the product as a typical consumer would use it so you experience it that way. So I often-- I'll let you in a little bit of a secret. I often have my better half, my wife do the bookings so people can't necessarily figure out who it is. And I will say my two teenage boys are very rigorous in terms of the review process.

But to your question, you know, we will often just ask a couple of questions. Because the questions are a good way to, you know, just test whether that host is taking it really rigorously or not. You know, I'll often ask, you know, when was the cleaner in? And when was the last time? You know, so you get a sense of that time difference. You know, walk around the place when we arrive to make sure you're doing a spot check.

Look, I've heard of-- of guests-- and we don't do this by the way. But I know a lot of hosts provide this and some guests have asked for it. You know, can you leave cleaning products there because, you know, I may want to touch it up myself? Particularly areas that you may be especially sensitive about. Now I think personally that's going a little bit above and beyond, but it's ultimately whatever makes you comfortable. You know, the thing is that we always counsel people. And this is an obvious point, but it's certainly worth repeating.

Prioritize your health and safety. You know, we're one of the first platforms that, when the WHO declared a global pandemic, immediately just said like, everyone can get a full refund. Don't put, you know, money ahead of your safety. And interestingly, I think we've built up an element of trust with the guests.

I think one of the reasons we've bounced back in the way we have, and we've seen a percent increase in trust levels on Airbnb. Because I think there was a sense that we were trying to look out for those guests. That's not why we did it. It was just the right thing to do, period. But I do think that speaks a little bit to the values of our hosts and our community. You know, amongst the things that we've worked on, and I think you're aware of this, is we've created, you know, housing for over I think 100,000 frontline responders to be able to stay in Airbnb listings near where they are serving all of us. That's our host opening up their homes for free.

And interestingly, the cleaning protocols that I walked you through really were a derivative of that program, right? When we put that in place back in March, we needed a way to be able to make sure that when those frontline responders got there it was clean, and when they left it would be adequately cleaned. And so these protocols that we developed that now we're applying, you know, across the globe, are really developed to help support that frontline program.

JOHN WHYTE: Take out your crystal ball, Chris, and tell us, what does travel look like six months from now and a year from now?

CHRIS LEHANE: I think it's going to look an awful lot like the travel that-- at least I'll speak for myself, I'm a little bit older, that I had growing up. Which is you got in your family car, you drove a couple hours, maybe you met your grandparents or your cousins and you were by a lake, you know, or by a beach or going to a national park. That's what we're seeing, you know, right now happen. And I think-- look, the pandemic is awful at every level. I'm not trying to gloss over this.

You know, that throwback type of a vacation and time with their families, I think there's a lot of great things to be said for that. You know, family's spending time together, driving over to Hillandale, going to local communities that are in their backyards. It's awesome. We did Yellowstone, right? It's a really cool way to spend time with your family. I think six months out-- let's-- let's-- let's-- let's-- let's call it, you know, post-vaccine and post-acceptance of people taking the vaccine, which has to happen, obviously, as well.

I think you'll start to get cross-border travel coming back a-a-at that point. But even then, I do think that the pandemic is going to have accelerated trends that we were seeing earlier, which is local, authentic, unique type of travel. And I do think, you know, people always talk about the-- the new new. That presumes that there's a--a norm that people are building off of. I do think, to the extent there was one, that was-- there was a trend that was already happening that will get accelerated.

I think people will be a lot more interested in going to rural places. I think there will in effect be a democratizing of travel, with the money being spread out a little bit differently and a little bit more. Um, like a lot of terrible things are coming out of this-- this pandemic.

Typically when you have a global disruption of any kind, you know, a big challenge for all humans are, you know, are we able to come together and-- and create some positives and goods out of that. And I think within the travel sector, it will be that democratizing of travel, moving away from mass travel to a more localized, authentic-- in the same way that, you know, you move from sometimes mass food to a healthier way that people think about food. I think you'll have a version of that or an analog to that that will happen in travel.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, Chris, I want to thank you for sharing your insights, sharing your tips on, you know, how we can stay safe when we travel. And we'll check in with you in six months and see if--if your predictions have come to fruition.

CHRIS LEHANE: Thank you. And really, you know, I know I said this earlier but I want to emphasize-- a, everyone stay safe out there. Prioritize health and safety over anything else. And thank you for everything that-- that--that you guys do to help us. I mean, the amount of information people are able to access is incredible. And, y-you know, you're saving lives. So thank you.