Helping hotel guests breathe easy

Hotels across the world have reopened following the Covid-19 pandemic but there is a new dawn with customers acutely aware of air quality within their rooms and beyond. Here we look at how manufacturers and the industry have risen to the challenge.

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It is a given that everyone wants a clean environment when visiting a hotel but in this post-pandemic world when the coronavirus is known to spread through the air, filtration has become not just an internal safety feature but a necessary selling point to attract custom.

In a recent US Consumer Sentiment on Indoor Air Quality survey, 77% of consumers said that proof of a hotel’s indoor air quality (IAQ) would affect their decision on where to book while 52% of travellers said they would pay more to stay at a location with better IAQ.

Whit Pepper, president of German clean air technology company Atmofizer, said: “Covid-19 has left consumers feeling less secure about sharing air in public spaces.

“As the fear of airborne illnesses has heightened, consumers have understandably become much more concerned about potentially contagious strangers and are choosing to go where high air quality standards are maintained.”


Negative reviews

Consumer concern can quickly translate into negative reviews - the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s Travel Study 2021–2022 showed satisfaction with hotels fell 2.7% over a year so there is much work to be done.

Some hotels were taking air quality seriously before the pandemic. For example, the Hilton hotel at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport opened its doors in December 2016 and installed PM1 particulate filters from Afpro Filters. These filter particles down to less than 0.1μ, effective against viruses and exhaust gases.

Bert Tenthof, chief engineer at Hilton Schiphol, said: “Within our hotel, the comfort of guests is central. Good air filters are essential for a healthy and pleasant indoor climate.”

Similarly, the Fairmont hotel in Beijing reported its TripAdvisor ratings had improved and guest numbers increased following the installation of standalone filtration units from air purification specialist Blueair into its 222 rooms as well as its gym, spa and VIP lounge.

General manager Michael Ganster said: “The feedback from guests has been extremely positive after the installation of Blueair air purifiers. Our guest satisfaction keeps rising and our TripAdvisor ranking is improving. In future, clean air rooms in luxury hotels will be a basic expectation of frequent travellers.”

Herman Pihlträd, president at Blueair, added: “For many people, clean air can make the difference between a pleasant stay and long nights of coughing and sneezing. Clean air is as important as fitness centers and wholesome dining options when it comes to providing a truly health-conscious environment.”


Pleasant environment

With most systems the air in a hotel room is continuously pumped from the outside but filtration is necessary to remove as many contaminants and smells as possible ranging from pollen to vehicle emissions, to deliver a pleasant environment.

Filters are used to trap and absorb particles using a tight mesh – enough to block out harmful particles but also to allow air to flow easily.

High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters have proven effective in reducing pollutants and unwanted particulates from the air. Medical-grade HEPA filters can remove 99.97% of pollutants down to 0.3μ from the air without releasing harmful compounds.

But filters need replacing around every six months to ensure the airflow is as clean as possible along with regular inspection and cleaning of HVAC systems to prevent the growth of mould and the proliferation of spores which can cause asthma and allergies.

Also, while HEPA filters will clean the air, they are not effective against volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as paint or solvent fumes which can remain for several years. The removal of these requires additional technology.


Harmful particulates

Alvi’s CleanAir Safety System not only captures and kills viruses, bacteria and mould, it removes VOCs and other harmful particulates by creating a polarized field. This field binds the microparticulate together, deactivates viruses and bacteria and traps them in the filter.

Tests showed it removes microparticulate as small as 0.007μ. A web-based dashboard and smartphone app allows hotel managers and engineers to monitor air quality and filter stats – a feature than can also be offered to hotel guests.

A system developed by US firm AtmosAir uses an ionization tube which energizes the air to form bi-polar – positive and negative – air ions. The airflow distributes the energized ions through the HVAC, either through a main system or through a standalone unit. The ions then go into the room, minimizing contaminants at source.

They attach themselves to microparticles like mould, bacteria, allergens and viruses. Clustering makes the microparticles fall to the floor or a nearby surface so they can no longer be inhaled.

Another recent technology has been developed by Atmofizer. Its units reduce nanoparticles by agglomerating them into larger, aggregated clusters using ultrasonic clustering before blasting them with ultraviolet light to deactivate viruses and bacteria. Atmofizer says that it takes under 12 minutes to process the air in an average 1,000 ft³ room.


Change filters

The units can be used standalone or in conjunction with existing filtration/HVAC systems and in either case the time and expense of having to change filters regularly is significantly reduced.

Pepper added: “Businesses don’t want the cost, hassle and potential exposure involved with having to change air filters – especially in every room at a large hotel – every month.

“We hear a lot of stories about air filter devices sitting idle in the corner, being shelved altogether or running but just not changing the expensive filters as frequently (if at all) over the year. So, achieving high 95 to 99.9% deactivation of the targeted viruses and bacteria without needing a filter is a good proposition for those customers.”