Allergy-Friendly Hotel Room Concept Making Industry Inroads – By Glenn Hasek

Atlanta-based NYLO Hotels LLC has partnered with Pure Solutions NA, Buffalo, N.Y., to provide the PURE rooms. NYLO, which has a goal of opening 50 properties throughout North America by 2010, intends to include one PURE floor in each of its hotels.

NYLO's decision to provide these super clean rooms will be a welcome relief to the 70 million Americans who suffer from allergies or some type of chemical sensitivity. The PURE rooms also will help position NYLO in the crowded mid-tier sector.

'We are pleased to be the first of the new brands to make allergy-friendly accommodations a brand standard,' said John Russell, CEO, NYLO Hotels, in a release announcing the groundbreaking for the Plano hotel.

'We thought it was a great fit for us,' adds Patrick O'Neil, Senior Vice President, Operations for NYLO. 'There is a market for it. It provides another level of service for our guests.'

In addition to NYLO, the Thayer Lodging Group, Annapolis, Md., also has made a commitment to the PURE room concept. Its eight full-service hotels have 10 percent PURE rooms and its five limited-service hotels will have the same percentage soon. Thayer intends to make the rooms a standard in any hotel that it purchases and its hotels' meeting rooms also will be PURE rooms.

'We were the first hotel company to implement the system in a meeting environment,' says Tom Kammerer, Managing Director, Thayer Lodging Group.

The allergy-friendly room concept was first introduced back in 1993 by Upland, Calif.-based Green Suites International. Green Suites still offers an AllerFresh program that includes air and water filtration and nontoxic cleaning products but Pure Solutions has taken the concept several steps farther.

The PURE Room Process

According to Tom Pickles, Director of Operations for Pure Solutions, each guestroom undergoes a series of treatments to get it to PURE room quality. The first step is the cleaning of the air handling unit.

'Air handlers can be a breeding ground for viruses and mold,' Pickles says.

As part of the Pure Solutions program, air handlers are cleaned by service technicians at the initial conversion and on a quarterly basis. Coils, fans, drip pans and duct work are all cleaned. A cartridge that releases tea tree oil is inserted into the air handler. It slowly emits a vapor that acts as a natural antiseptic. An added bonus from keeping the air handlers clean is an energy savings of up to 15 percent.

During the conversion of the room, carpet and upholstery are cleaned and a high ozone shock treatment is delivered to kill remaining mold and bacteria. Pure Shield, a bacteria static barrier, is then applied to all room surfaces.

'It makes it difficult for microorganisms to attach themselves,' Pickles says. 'It is colorless and bonds with surfaces on a molecular level.'

Once the room has been cleaned and all surfaces treated, an air purification system is introduced into the room. Pure Solutions provides either a boxed system that is visible to the guest or one that is part of the bed frame and under the bed. Each filters the air in a typical room four times an hour. The filters remove visible particulates, odors, and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Thanks to an electronic field around a HEPA filter, the system kills bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Pickles says the air in a building can be 50 times more polluted than the air outside. His company has tested air quality in a PURE room against outdoor air. It found that PURE rooms contain 300,000 particulates in a cubic meter of air compared to 9 million found in a cubic meter of outdoor air.

Eliminating Mighty Dust Mites

Another step in the PURE room process is the addition of mattress and pillow encasements. These help protect guests from allergic reactions to dust mites. The tiny mites, which are just 10 to 15 microns in size, live in mattresses and pillows and dine on dead skin cells. Dust mite excrement and body parts can cause allergic reactions.

'Air can pass through the covers but they prevent the mites from getting out,' Pickles says.

Pure Solutions also offers an optional shower filter as part of its PURE program. It removes harmful chlorine from the water that can be absorbed through the skin, lungs and eyes.

'For people sensitive to chlorine, it can be a big problem,' Pickles says.

The PURE room concept is beginning to take hold. Twenty-five hotels have signed on and 350 rooms will be PURE rooms by the middle of this year. Pickles says a number of his customers-like the Thayer Lodging Group-are also converting meeting spaces to PURE spaces. In a typical installation, about 10 percent of a hotel's room total is converted.

'We have done entire floors at several hotels,' Pickles says. 'If you only do a couple of rooms, you don't get the sales and marketing clout that you need.'

Pure Solutions has identified four central marketing success factors for their PURE rooms:

1. Mention of the rooms on the hotel's home page.
2. Inclusion of the PURE rooms as a 'room type' in the PMS.
3. Allowing Pure Solutions to train hotel personnel how to sell the rooms.
4. Displaying point-of-purchase collateral at the property.

Pickles says many of his customers, mostly limited service and mid-scale hotels, charge a premium for the rooms. Thayer Lodging Group's Kammerer says his company's hotels increase room rates 5 to 10 percent for the PURE rooms.

'So far, these rooms are running a higher RevPAR than our other rooms,' he says.

Luxury hotels tend to include the features as an amenity built into the room rate. Pure Solutions currently charges $2,100 per room for its room packages that include the conversion service, air filtration system and quarterly onsite maintenance for two years. For the under-bed air filtration system, the fee is slightly higher at $2,300.

'Every hotel that works with us to market these end up buying more rooms,' says Pickles, who added that the Doubletree Hotel Tucson at Reid Park recently realized a 249 percent return on its investment in just four months.

Green Suites' AllerFresh System

Cyndi Riggle, Vice President of Sales for Green Suites International, says that company's AllerFresh program is currently in place at five hotels. At the Stanford Terrace Inn in Palo Alto, Calif., AllerFresh rooms, called 'Green Suites Accommodations' by the inn, have been in operation for 10 years.

'Over the years, more and more people have requested these types of rooms,' says Barbara Pressman, General Manager of the Stanford Terrace Inn. 'We market them on our website, at the front desk and at the point of reservation.'

Whereas Pure Solutions manufactures its air purifiers, Green Suites uses an air ionizing purifier manufactured by The Hoover Co.

'It is a completely silent filter,' Riggle says.

Green Suites' program also includes chlorine-removing shower filters, under-sink water filters and nontoxic, low-VOC, low-fragrance cleaning products. It is the cleaning products, Riggle says, that make or break an allergy-friendly room.

'It would not make sense to have an air purifier but still be introducing toxic cleaning chemicals into the room,' she says.

Green Suites charges hotels 50 cents per roomnight for its AllerFresh rooms program. That price includes the filters and the cleaning products.

This article first appeared on the Green Lodging News website. To sign up to receive the weekly Green Lodging News newsletter, go to www.greenlodgingnews.com. Glenn Hasek can be reached at greenlodgingnews@aol.com.