Hotel Chains Offer Hypoallergenic Rooms, for a Price

By TANYA MOHN
Published: January 10, 2011

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/business/11allergy.html?_r=1&ref=business

Even die-hard road warriors need a comfortable place to recharge after a long day. But for business travelers with allergies, asthma and other sensitivities, hotel rooms can be rife with dust mites, mold, animal dander and other allergens that set off sneezing, itchy eyes, headaches and sleepless nights.

The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver provides hypoallergenic rooms for guests with allergies.

Individual hotels have long accommodated guests by cleaning rooms with special products and processes and washing linens in hot water with no or fragrance-free detergent. They have also offered mattress and pillow protectors, rooms with no carpets and windows that open.

But now, two hotel chains, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, are taking the service even further by designating permanent allergy-friendly rooms, with things like medical-grade air purifiers and chemical- and fragrance-free bath products.

Jim Strong, co-owner of Strong Travel Services in Dallas, said a colleague who once worked at the St. Regis in New York recounted how over 100 years ago, the hotel replaced draperies with wooden shutters in some rooms for guests with dust allergies. “This type of customer service has been done for years and years and years” all over the world, he said. But in recent years, there has been, he said, “a noticeable increase in requests.”

Thirty-eight percent of hotels offer some kind of allergy-friendly service in guest rooms, a 14 percent increase in the last two years, according to the 2010 Lodging Survey prepared for the American Hotel and Lodging Association by STR, a hotel research company.

The trend toward improving indoor air quality is part of the larger green movement that began with nonsmoking rooms, said Ray Burger, founder of Pineapple Hospitality, which administers a “green” hotel certification program and operates freshstay.com, an online booking site for smoke-free rooms. The Web site plans to add icons soon that will indicate which hotels offer hypoallergenic rooms, and what chemicals are used in cleaning products, paints, sealants and bath products.

Hyatt recently announced plans to create hypoallergenic rooms in all of its full-service hotels in North America. The rooms, which will soon total about 2,000 in 125 properties, cost $20 to $30 extra a night and are intended to eliminate up to 98 percent of allergens and irritants through a six-step process that cleans all surfaces, carpets and fabrics. A medical-grade purifier continuously circulates air, Hyatt said.

We sought “a full-scale solution for guests,” said Tom Smith, vice president of rooms for Hyatt. “This was a market really underserved.”

The number of allergy suffers is believed to have gone up substantially since the late ’70s, said Dr. Darryl Zeldin, senior investigator and acting clinical director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Currently, roughly half of Americans are sensitive to at least one common allergen. Different testing methods may account for some of the increase, but better hygiene resulting in less exposure to bacteria is also thought to play a role, Dr. Zeldin said.

Brian Brault, chief executive of Pure Solutions, the company that installs and maintains Hyatt’s hypoallergenic rooms, said more than 200 hotels nationwide, including properties at several major brands, had Pure Solutions rooms, but Hyatt was the first to offer them across its brands. The technology is also being used in some hotel conference centers, he said.

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel has had an entire hypoallergenic floor since 1999, and other Fairmont properties have long provided services to guests with allergies. But the chain is in the final stages of a pilot program for permanent hypoallergenic rooms that it plans to introduce gradually this year.

“We’re looking at the bigger picture,” said Paul Kingsbury, director of housekeeping for the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. The approach will include featherless duvets and pillows and chemical- and perfume-free bath products, as well as in-room mini bars from which all nuts have been removed and room service meals that cater to various food allergies. All Fairmont chefs have been trained to prepare a vast array of special dietary and allergy-specific meals.

Fairmont’s hypoallergenic rooms will cost about $25 extra a night.

Mr. Kingsbury recalled a patron who had a terrible reaction because she saw, through a small rip in a duvet, some fibers that she mistook for down. The duvet contained no feathers, but “sometimes even the perception of an allergen can be harmful,” he said. “Knowing things are set up properly is a big comfort for the guests.”

Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, said that because more people were being diagnosed with allergies, it made business sense for hotels to provide a greater number of allergy-friendly rooms. But the rooms also have great general appeal.

“There are many people who request special rooms, not because they have allergies but because they believe those rooms will have a higher degree of sanitation and cleanliness,” Mr. Hanson said. “It’s a way for hotels to invest a little bit more for a room but get a premium for both occupancy and rate.”

Mike Piazza, a partner at the law firm Greenberg Traurig in Irvine, Calif., said he did not realize he had allergies until one night on a business trip: “I woke up and I couldn’t breathe.” It turned out he was allergic to down. “I called the front desk to get a foam pillow,” he said. “Then I was fine.”

Lisa Abbott, a marketing consultant for nonprofit groups in Oakland, Calif., who suffers from multiple chemical sensitivities, has learned the benefits firsthand of good air quality in a hotel room.

At home, she rarely takes the morning rush hour train, to avoid “breathing in a soup of fumes and fragrances” from deodorant, after shave, hair products and freshly laundered clothing. Traveling, she said, has “always been dicey.” But she stayed in one of Hyatt’s new rooms on a recent trip to Chicago. “The air is purer,” she said. “I slept great. I felt energized both days of conferences. It has just completely opened up my travel options.”

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