An article contributed by Giovanni Angelini

The quality of indoor air is of paramount importance to hotel guests and employees. Unfortunately, ventilation systems don't always get the necessary attention nor funds required to keep them in top condition and up to date with the latest solutions and technology.

Following the Covid-19 outbreak, much emphasis has been placed on surface sanitation, hand-washing, mask-wearing, contactless interactions, and the promotion of social distancing. These are all valid public health pursuits and should continue, in keeping with expert advice. However, much less has been said about the indoor air that we breathe.

Most hotels – especially urban properties with sealed windows – have to deal with a constant flow of airborne contaminants including dust, pollen, mold, mildew, bacteria, chemical fumes, volatile organic compounds from carpets, cigarette smoke, CO2, and outdoor pollution.

If not dealt with effectively, these contaminants can pose health risks to guests and employees, potentially giving rise to infections and aggravating allergies.

It's the hotels’ responsibility

A hotel or resort is legally responsible for ensuring that its environment is safe for all, and at all times - especially during times of crisis.

When it comes to safety and comfort, it’s important that hotels implement top of the line equipment (not the cheapest) and strictly implement regular maintenance and cleaning – paying particularly close attention to air ducts, HVAC, cooling towers, and air filters.

It is a fact that coronavirus infections occur at both short and long distances. Short distance when infected persons sneeze, cough, or simply talk. Long distance when small droplets with the virus stay suspended in the air, including in the air-conditioning or ventilation systems.

Upgrading air filters

One major step towards reducing the risk of infection in hotels is the upgrading of the building’s air filters or ventilation systems from the air handling unit capacity to modern and more efficient filters.

MERV filters (minimum efficiency reporting value) and HEPA filters (high efficiency particulate air) are perhaps among the very best air filtration systems available in the market:

- MERV scale goes from 1 (lowest) to 16 (highest).

- HEPA scale goes from 17 to 20.

In order for hotels to capture 90-95% of all the indoor contaminants and particles, it is strongly advised not to go below MERV-13 when installing or upgrading filters for guestrooms and public areas. Of course, a higher rating will be better.

Air filters are not only a prevention measure against airborne pathogens. They also capture inorganic pollutants like particulate matter, improving the indoor air quality in general.

For even better results, it is recommended that filtering can be combined with an air purification method like Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI). Air purification with UVGI not only kills viruses, but also bacteria and mold spores.

It is clear that MERV-14, 15 or 16 will give hotels a much stronger competitive advantage and a clear reason to promote the benefits of clean air to the consumers. The quality of air is of particular interest to a majority of the market segments patronizing hotels. Note that with MERV 14-15 filters combined with UVGI germicidal lamps, your risk of catching airborne viruses in a hotel room is practically nil.

In the case of older buildings where upgrades are not possible, portable air cleaners with MERV-13 (or better) filters should be used in each room and in the public areas.

And let’s not forget the exhaust air system of the public restrooms – which should be running 24/7 at around 30 cfm.

An important question – and a key objective for any hotel – is what can be done to achieve similar air quality to that of a modern airplane, where the cabin air is filtered and renewed every 2-3 minutes? The hotel industry should look at this in the future.

Of course, it is not easy to measure the impact on business, but operators with top-of-the-line (MERV-14 or 15 filters with UVGI germicidal lamps) facilities can expect considerably higher revenue in both rooms and public areas when compared with the run-of-the-mill facilities.

Properly explained and properly marketed

A hotel has the potential to increase its RevPAR by 10-15%. This isn’t easy to forecast accurately, but do remember that safety and well-being have become the biggest factors for customers in choosing a hotel, and, in the new normal, properties which take care of all aspects of a guest's health will be in the greatest demand, and potentially able to charge a premium of 10-20%. This will easily justify the cost of installing and maintaining the most efficient air filtration systems.

With every major crisis comes a moment of opportunity. This is a time for the hotel industry to think outside the box and accept fundamental shifts and structural changes. In addition to agility, efficiency, innovation, automation, and speed, hotels have a clear opportunity to maximize well-being as it has become the most important factor for travelers.

With a broadening audience and heightened search for safety/security, the quality of indoor air will definitely spur new and distinctive demand in the coming months and years.  The industry's pivot to well-being is no longer a trend but a necessity, and in some case, this requires careful planning and investment. While difficult to measure directly, the returns will be worthwhile.