After the onset of last year’s global pandemic, hospitality and customer service-centric industries over the world have suffered detrimental financial impacts to businesses within their respective sectors. Hotels have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with McKinsey reporting under 15% occupancy last summer for luxury hotels and under 40% occupancy for economy-class hotels. With multiple COVID-19 vaccines now approved and in circulation for public distribution, however, many in this industry are looking at the coming months with hope.
Though some hotels have been able to survive COVID-19’s impact by slowly opening up their rooms to occupancy over the last year, many questions remain as to the long-term impact the pandemic will have on the hotel industry. One such question is: “how will hotels be able to reassure customers that their rooms and buildings are clean, safe, sanitized, and virus-free?”
While sanitizing cleaners, sprays, and wipes can help hotel management clean surfaces in their rooms, these products do little (if anything at all) when it comes to disinfecting potential airborne COVID-19 viral molecules and other pathogens. In order for hotel managers and their teams to truly ensure clean, safe, and virus-free lodging, one expert microbiologist says hotels will need to look into solutions for sanitizing HVAC systems to improve and maintain indoor air quality (IAQ) against the COVID-19 virus and other pathogens.
“Everyone focuses on the surfaces in a hotel room, but COVID-19 and other viruses are airborne,” says Dr. Rajiv Sahay, Ph.D., FIAS, CIAQP, the director of the environmental diagnostics laboratory at Pure Air Control Services in Clearwater, FL, a nationally recognized IAQ firm. “Hotel industry leaders who understand the importance of sanitizing the HVAC systems and creating Pure Air Hypoallergenic Rooms, as well as how to communicate that they did so, are going to be the winners as consumers start traveling again in greater numbers.”
In a post-COVID world, travelers and hotel customers are going to be more aware than ever before of the steps lodgers and hoteliers take to ensure their health and safety during their stay. While regular cleaning and sanitizing against COVID-19 is likely to be expected from virtually every hotelier and lodge manager, this is only part of the equation. Because many travelers will consist of customers with sensitive health conditions such as allergies, hotel managers will need to showcase each step they take to ensure their customers’ health and safety in order to bounce back more rapidly from the events and impact of last year’s pandemic.
According to Dr. Sahay, one such way to ensure this is through an IAQ certification program that hotel managers can enter. In doing so, they can follow a step-by-step process to provide customers with the essential elements of a truly sanitized and hypoallergenic room during the length of their stay. This will not only improve the guest experience but also the bottom line. An IAQ certification program such as this, Dr. Sahay says, would consist of the following six primary steps:
- EVALUATE INDOOR AIR QUALITY – Hotel management should conduct baseline environmental tests, including testing of their HVAC systems, to verify building safety. This could allow hotels to receive an industry-approved notice that certifies their IAQ against viruses such as COVID-19, allergies, and other irritants to ease concerns from traveling customers.
- NEUTRALIZE PATHOGENS – Cleaning and air filtration processes should include building-wide disinfection. This can be conducted using EPA-registered disinfectants to neutralize all bacteria, mold, and viruses (including COVID) prior to the facilities being certified as fully sanitized and hypoallergenic.
- CLEAN AND RESTORE HVAC UNITS – Every hotel should make sure that all of their HVAC units are hygienically cleaned with steam at a temperature no lower than 350° F. Once cleaned, those same HVAC systems should then be restored with anti-microbial paint to prevent the future growth and spread of microbes, allergens, and other harmful airborne particles.
- REDUCE IN-ROOM PARTICLES – Each management team should conduct building-wide hygienic cleaning of all supply and return HVAC ductwork with negative air machines that include HEPA filtration, including encapsulation of their fiberglass duct boards in order to mitigate or prevent future degradation of their HVAC systems.
- USE AIR PURIFICATION TECH – Hotel managers should use in-room air purifiers with automated detection technology and multi-stage high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration, and ensure that PURE-Plasma bi-polar ionization technology is installed to allow for the continuous cleaning of indoor air to remove allergens, microbes, odors, and other particles that could pose risks to the health of travelers.
- MONITOR CONDITIONS – Many large hotel companies now have access to technologies that would allow them to conduct real-time 24/7 IAQ monitoring of their buildings for particles, temperature, relative humidity (RH), carbon dioxide (CO2), and airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in order to maintain their certification status.
Dr. Rajiv Sahay, Ph.D., FIAS, CIAQP is a world-renowned microbiologist with an extensive background in aerobiological science, environmental infection controls, and pandemics. He has spent the past twenty years as the Laboratory Director of the Environmental Diagnostics Laboratory at Pure Air Control Services in Clearwater, FL. To learn more about Dr. Sahay and his scientific expertise, visit www.edlab.org today