By Joan Leotta
Summer’s coming, and for many, that season means travel. For people with mobility disabilities, the potential barriers when vacationing are many. However, from access to planes to suitable hotel rooms, people who use wheelchairs in the U.S. have ADA guidelines to help insure the comforts of their trips. But what about the perils of touring the country for people for whom air quality — both indoors and out — is an issue?
Brian Brault, CEO of PURE Solutions, recognizes that traditional cleaning products, latent germs in the air or on surfaces, and other everyday allergens present real hindrances to comfortable travel for many hotel guests. Now, with the help of his company, more than 6,000 hotel rooms in North America and around the world are certified “PURE” rooms, prepared so as to eliminate allergens and asthma triggers and thus provide a “breath of fresh air” to hotel guests.
A 2012 survey of travelers by the Cornell University Survey Research Institute, found that 41% of travelers either have breathing difficulties or travel with companions who do. Brault’s PURE rooms provide the type of accommodation for a health condition that hotel proprietors have been challenged to adequately address in the past.
In a PURE room, the “soft goods” (linens, carpeting, drapery) and hard surfaces are treated to make it extremely difficult for germs to live and the air is constantly filtered for purity. But, more than that, Brault describes the PURE rooms as a natural outgrowth of his firm’s core values: Making lives better, being genuine, and doing whatever it takes. “It’s how we work,” he says.
The PURE room concept began about nine years ago, when Advanced Facilities Services, a service company based in Buffalo, New York owned by Brault was approached by a company who had a patented technology often used to clean cruise ship air filters. Jens Ringvall from Sweden, a principal of this company had developed a way of cleansing the air filter system and the cabins. Brault realized his work could be applied to hotel rooms.
How It Works
PURE’s seven-step process combines advancements in science with concern for the whole guest to produce rooms that are comfortable for anyone whose breathing conditions require such standards. In addition, most hotels who adopt the PURE-room concept convert at least one ADA-compliant room for people with disabilities to PURE
The PURE process, detailed at www.pureroom.com, includes:
- Deep-cleaning the air handling unit, down to disinfecting the coils of the heating and air conditioning mechanisms.
- Using tea-tree oil cartridges for antimicrobial and disinfectant purposes, to maintain sanitized conditions in the air-handling unit.
- Cleaning carpet and upholstery with a patented solution designed to deeply remove dirt, bacteria, and mold.
- Employing a one-time “shock” treatment to restore fresh, crisp air by destroying mold and bacteria and removing lingering odors from the likes of cigarette smoke or pets.
- Applying the “PURE Shield,” a bacteriostatic barrier, to all room surfaces to repel microorganisms and prevent their growth.
- Purifying the air to continuously protect against airborne irritants through a medical grade air purifier.
- Using only allergy-friendly bedding, including micro-fiber, mono-filament mattresses and pillowcase encasements.
Maintaining PURE standards is not a one-time transaction for hotels, Brault relates. “Once the room is converted and inspected, it is certified,” he says.
Bill Henderson, General Manager of the Westin, Atlanta Airport hotel, adds, “Our staff does the regular cleaning. We use green, low-impact cleaning products.” Every six months, the rooms are re-treated and re-certified by PURE room personnel.”
Marketing PURE Rooms
How prevalent are PURE rooms? Brault notes, “Many of the nation’s best hotels, and all Hyatt full service brand hotels, offer these rooms.” He estimates that hotels who adopt the PURE room concept generally convert about five percent of their rooms to PURE.
To many guests, staying in a PURE room is often an eye-opening (or, a refreshingly eye-closing) experience. “Those staying in PURE rooms often report having the best night’s sleep in many years, even better than in their own homes,” says Brault.
Still, the company is faced with the issue of how to share the success and luxury of clean-breathing air and a good night’s sleep with the public. Originally, the concept seemed to be the right idea at the right time. Says Brault: “We talked to a brand strategist for Hilton and one of the head engineers at Marriott and some of the professors at the Cornell University hospitality program and found that the whole issue of indoor air quality was very much on the radar for the hotel branch of the hospitality industry. Our trial run, about eight years, was successful, and hotel people invested in our product.” He adds that data on the number of travelers with breathing issues were a big factor in convincing hoteliers of the need to offer such rooms in some or all of their properties.
“Early on, we thought the rooms would sell themselves,” says Brault. “In 2008, when we were recognized by the hotel school at Cornell, and awarded the “innovator of the industry”, we went from a few rooms to a lot of rooms.”
However, as in many sectors, dips in the economy forced the company to rethink their marketing strategy. Says BRAULT, “The economy of 2008 and 2009 forced us to work out creative ways to market the rooms, including free installation, with profit-sharing on the premium charged for the room” Most hotels charge about twenty dollars more a night for the PURE rooms.
Westin’s Henderson notes, “We market PURE rooms on our website, in our group information, and in our hotel lobby. Our check-in staff are trained to serve and notice guest needs, so we offer them when we think there may be a need. For instance if the front desk person sees that a guest has a cold or is suffering from an allergy, he or she might recommend the PURE room at check-in.”
For Westin, being mindful of guest needs is part of the culture. ”We are very cognizant of helping people with disabilities,” Henderson says. “All the Starwood Brands are very health conscious anyway…and the desk staff is specially trained to note guest needs.” Westin even goes above and beyond the expected to provide comforts of home. “One of our services is to send chicken soup up to the room of sick guests,” says Henderson.
He relates, “The PURE barrier and air purification system do more than clean the air for those who have air pollution–related breathing issues. Even if you do not have a breathing problem, if you have a cold or are susceptible to colds while traveling, these two factors make the choice of a PURE room a wise one.”
Good press from one hotel helped build trust in the PURE concept throughout the industry. Brault relates that after The Grand Hyatt in San Francisco decided to try the rooms, “We became the brand standard for Hyatt in 2010 under the name Respire(by Hyatt).” (The name will revert to PURE at Hyatt by the end of this year.)
Hyatt Corporate SVP of Rooms, Tom Smith, adds, “Two to five percent of rooms in each hotel are now Respire by Hyatt rooms.” Because the Hyatt chain has a strong global presence, the number of PURE/Respire by Hyatt rooms is high. “We have approximately 2,000 rooms in 125 hotels across the US, Canada and the Caribbean,” he indicates. “More than any other brand. Our guests’ health and well-being is a top priority and every one of our hotels follows a strict protocol for cleanliness.”
How are that many rooms kept in PURE condition? Smith explains that the special procedures for maintaining PURE rooms are a part of every room attendant’s routine. “In Hyatt Respire rooms, after regular cleaning, room attendants ensure that encasements are on the mattress and all pillows, that the purifier is running in ‘quiet’ mode, and that the purification certificate in the room is visible.”
Hyatt is taking an additional step to help those with breathing difficulties by introducing a line of fragrance-free toiletries this year. Smith also notes that the hotel’s food and beverage services also cater to potential allergy issues.
PURE rooms generally cost a little more per night, due to the extra cost associated with getting them ready. However, customer feedback reveals that those who use the PURE rooms find them well worth the small additional cost.
Henderson says, “We get a lot of excellent customer feedback about the PURE rooms.” Sometimes, the PURE treatment means the difference between being miserable or really getting the most out of the travel experience. “Parents write to us to say their child with allergies was able to start recovering and it saved their trip,” he says
In addition to feedback received directly by the hotels, the PURE company also hears from happy hotel guests. Says Brault, “We get feedback three or four times a week and most of it is pretty remarkable. Our website includes many testimonials.”
How to Book
The PURE room website provides a list of hotels offering PURE rooms. Web visitors can search by either hotel chain or location. Once the seeker decides to make the reservation, that person is re-directed to the specific hotel’s website.
“We aren’t in the booking business,” says Brault, “but we are a sort of clearinghouse for PURE rooms. Our site helps you find the nearest one, and when you click to book the room you are transferred to the hotel chain website so, for the user, it is a seamless process.”
The company is on track to have six thousand PURE rooms certified by end of 2013. The firm has a global presence now, as well as its base of rooms in North America, and plans to continue growing. In addition to extending its presence in hotels, the firm plans to market some of its products for home use.
For some in the hotel industry, the transition to home products is already happening. Henderson says that the PURE technologies have also bettered his home life. “I have two Labrador retrievers who sleep in my bedroom at home,” he says. “We bought one of the PURE air purifiers for our home and it has made quite a difference for the better in the quality of the air in my own bedroom.”
Concludes Brault, “It’s really exciting that there is a lot of momentum with our program, not only in hotels but also in the development of a program that can be installed in people’s homes. We are working on bringing this concept to market through a franchise structure that will roll out in 2013. This is amazing technology. It really works.”
Edited by Mary-Louise Piner.