Good News for Travelers

Hotel chains are catching on to the growing numbers of people with allergies and chemical sensitivity.

According to the New York Times, two hotel chains, Hyatt and Fairmont, are designating permanent allergy-friendly rooms, with medical-grade air purifiers and chemical- and fragrance-free bath products.

The Times article states:

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, an online booking site for smoke-free rooms. The Web site plans to add icons soon for hypoallergenic rooms, and to show 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. A medical-grade purifier continuously circulates air, Hyatt said.

“This was a market really underserved,” said Tom Smith, vice president of rooms for Hyatt.

The number of allergy sufferers 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. 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. Some hotel conference centers also use the technology, 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 found to have 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, 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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