Frank Strippoli, director of Operations at the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre, identifies the trend. “The demand for allergy-friendly rooms has ramped up,” he says. “We probably get a couple of requests per month, which is a lot more than we used to get 10 years ago, for example.” The number-1 request is for feather-free rooms. But, rather than redress a feather-laden room from start to finish, the Toronto Marriott keeps the hypo-allergenic rooms on standby. Approximately 16 of the hotel’s 461-room inventory are at the ready.

Strippoli notes the de-feathering process isn’t expensive as much as time-consuming, which is why it makes more economic sense to simply keep the rooms on standby. “We replace feather bedding with a synthetic pillow, duvet and topper,” he explains. “A useful tool for housekeeping is to have a differently designed synthetic bedding pattern — for example with a stripe through it. This reduces the possibility for error and makes the process more streamlined.”

In addition to synthetic bedding, the Marriott Downtown’s housekeeping staff consistently gives the room a thorough cleaning, dusting and vacuuming. Marriott’s preferred cleanser for allergy-friendly rooms is a fragrance-free Ecolab line. The cleaning routine is followed by a 30-minute air-purifying session. He adds: “It shocks the air and neutralizes it, ridding the room of all impurities. But this is a technology specifically used in those rooms reserved for allergy sufferers.”

Beyond the request for a featherless room, Strippoli says there really is no close second beyond requests at food and beverage operations — such as gluten- or lactose-free products. “Very occasionally, a guest will ask that all bath products be removed from the room beforehand, as they may want to bring their own,” he notes. “But that’s in the rarest of cases.”

Mathew Zurbrigg, director of Rooms at The Westin Edmonton (and former director of Housekeeping at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel), concedes that de-feathering a room is the typical request. “We offer hypo-allergenic pillows and bedding products for our SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) program or to any guest who specifically requests the feather-free option,” explains Zurbrigg. “In addition, we focus on chemical sensitivities by ensuring sheets and towels have been washed in a chemical-free process and that the room itself is prepped with fragrance-free cleansers.”

Despite these efforts, Zurbrigg can’t guarantee a scent-free, chemical-free, allergen-free environment. “The reality is the corridors are communal, and we are a pet-friendly hotel,” he explains. “That being said, we make every effort to accommodate the needs of our guests to assure them of their comfort within the confines of their rooms.”

Cynthia Bond, PR director at Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Toronto, also notes that SPG guests can request a feather-free room within an online preferences application in the reservation program. “Occasionally, a guest with a very heightened scent sensitivity will request that we clean the bathroom with something like vinegar and water,” explains Bond. “In these rare instances, we will look to replace the air filter in the HVAC unit as well.” However, she notes most of the Ecolab cleaning products used have very low levels of scent and have little chance of leaving a lingering fragrance.

At Harbour House Hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Ryan Murray, director of Operations, explains that while the hotel doesn’t specifically have allergy-friendly rooms, improved cleaning standards have led to almost every room being allergy-friendly. “We have moved to a high-quality synthetic pillow, which keeps sensitive and non-sensitive people happy,” says Murray. “Though we don’t specifically have a program to remain sneeze-free, our regular, thorough cleanings of rooms and public spaces limit the potential for normal allergens to be a problem.”

The Harbour House Hotel provides synthetic-filled featherbeds and pillows that Murray says are “all but indistinguishable” from the real thing. And guests seem to agree, as retail sales of its synthetic pillows have never been higher.

Geoff Allan, president of Montreal-based Project Capital Management and former GM of Hôtel Le Crystal, ensured an exceptional level of hygiene at the property, in part to attract guests who require a uniquely clean environment. “The urgency to guarantee a high level of cleanliness really emerged out of the SARS epidemic,” explains Allan. “We weren’t a chain, but an independent hotel, so we wanted our cleaning standards to be the highest possible.” To this end, Allan insisted on cleansers that used hydrogen peroxide as a base. “I wanted hospital-grade cleaning agents to remove as much bacteria as possible.”

He insists that using a black light to examine rooms reveals just how powerful a hospital-grade cleaner can be compared to a typical hotel cleanser. “We also introduced a level of frequency that went above and beyond the typical once-a-day clean,” Allan notes. “For example, each stainless-steel surface had to be wiped a minimum of three times per day. In addition, contact points like the remote control, light switches and headboards had to be identified to cleaning staff as essential points to sterilize daily.” Allan insists properly trained staff should understand the hows and whys of hotel cleanliness.

He also swears by Smart Silk products, which include pillowcases that can envelope a feather insert and isolate the feather molecules. “These pillowcases really help a guest who might be asthmatic,” explains Allan. Another protocol he introduced at Hôtel Le Crystal was to wrap, seal and date any extra blankets or pillows in a guest closet. “Imagine the night before you have a guy who may have stayed there and just thrown the blanket on the floor? Maybe his dog even slept on it. Then he folded it back up and put it back into the closet. The next guest may have a pet allergy and suffer from an allergic reaction.” For Allan, diligence is necessary to maintain a clean and bacteria-free room.

While part of the responsibility lies with the guest disclosing their intolerances, the hotel should offer opportunities for stating preferences in a non-invasive and accommodating manner. Whether a hotel sets aside rooms for allergy-sufferers or initiates a program to decrease the allergy risk of all rooms, it’s clear this is an area of operations that must be addressed. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Volume 27, Number 4

Written By: Jennifer Febbraro

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