What Are You Breathing During Your Hotel Visits?

In July of 1976, the American Legion held a conference at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia to celebrate the country's bicentennial anniversary. Within two days of the event, the veteran attendees were diagnosed with pneumonia-like symptoms. The incident resulted in 221 veterans diagnosed and 34 dead.

In January 1977, the cause of the mysterious epidemic, which came to be known as Legionnaires' disease, was identified as a bacterium (Legionella pneumophila) growing in the hotel's cooling tower and introduced to the building via the nearby fresh-air intake.

The first recognized outbreak of Legionnaires' disease focused national attention on indoor air quality, and thus changing building standards forever. To engineers and designers, the challenge became one of providing a healthy indoor environment without sacrificing comfort or energy efficiency.

According to the International Hotel & Restaurant Association: “People spend 80 percent of their time inside buildings. While energy efficiency is critical to cutting costs and emissions, the indoor environment is the most fundamental element of service quality. Guests want a comfortable environment in order to be productive at meetings and enjoy their leisure time, be it in their rooms, in restaurants, or around establishment premises. At the same time, employees need to concentrate to work efficiently and creatively. To guarantee these expectations, a good indoor environment is essential.”

With the proliferation of the concepts of sustainability and “green”, travelers are making decisions based not only on price, but a hotel company's commitment to the health and well-being of its guests. They want an environment free of airborne pathogens. As time has passed and studies have continued, scientists have continued to uncover additional hazardous sources that trigger headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Additional studies into indoor air quality revealed the existence of radical elements infiltrating the air. From asbestos-stained walls to volatile organic compounds, to radon poisoning, the fact is that now there is more to be cautious of than in the past.

However, when in a poll, the majority of hotel guests stated ultimately only a good night's sleep was a factor in their hotel choice. Yet, many factors affect a person's sleep, including the conditioned environment.

Improving Hotel Air Quality

While many people say that letting outside air in is sufficient to improve indoor air quality, that fact is that outdoor air is also not at optimal levels. This is even further the case if the outside air is humid, which only encourages mold growth. The most practical solution is for hotels to supply portable air conditioners as a courtesy or as mobile room cooling units that guests can rent out. Colder room temperatures keep bacteria and viruses at bay, which is why your hotel room is always set to freezing.

Ensuring that a hotel's indoor environment is one that will keep guests coming back is a never-ending job. From design to construction/renovation to operation, a hotel operator must be cognizant of issues associated with the indoor environment and address them proactively as well as reactively.

The U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC's) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating systems take a comprehensive approach to sustainable building design, construction, and operation, addressing total environment (e.g., thermal comfort, day lighting and views, productivity of workforce, ventilation, cleaning products). In a hotel, it is critical that not only air quality be addressed, but all other factors affecting the guest experience. Although no specific certification exists for hotels, the USGBC and American Hotel & Lodging Association are working together to develop one.

Shireen Shah is a writer with http://www.air-purifier-home.com/. Follow her on Twitter@AirConditioners

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