In a nod to the 40 million Americans with allergies and asthma, a growing number of hotels are unveiling hypoallergenic rooms—eliminating bothersome dust mites, mold, and mildew spores. Last month, Hyatt Hotels launched Respire by Hyatt, an initiative that calls for 2,000 hypoallergenic rooms at 125 of its properties nationwide by year's end. The rooms, already offered at more than 70 of the chain's hotels, cost an extra $20 to $30 a night.
"When you travel, you don't know what you're walking into. You don't know the environment, and you can't tweak it to make yourself comfortable like you can at home," says Brian Brault, CEO of Pure Solutions, a New York-based company that's converting rooms at Hyatt and other chains. "Any new living space will create problems for people with allergies."
Indeed, one night in a hotel room can lead to swollen eyes, a clogged nose, and a scratchy throat—symptoms that tend to dampen the traveling experience. Exactly what counts as a hypoallergenic room, however, varies. Some hotels are taking steps to become more allergy-friendly, by adding air purifiers, replacing drapes with blinds, or ripping out carpet in favor of hardwood floor, while others, like Hyatt, are going all out to make rooms allergy-free.
For Hyatt and other chains, Pure Solutions utilizes a six-step process that includes disinfecting the heating and air conditioning system, while adding a natural anti-microbial that wards off moisture. The company says its method eliminates 98 percent of airborne viruses, bacteria, pollen, and other irritants, and results in air that is one-tenth as contaminated as outside air. Rooms are sealed and machine-blasted for several hours with highly concentrated ozone, a charged form of oxygen that kills mold, bacteria, and other unwanted organisms. All hard and soft surfaces are also disinfected. Technicians spray these with a bacteriostatic shield that repels contaminants from sticking to anything in the room. Mattresses and pillows are encased with microfiber protective covers, and each room is equipped with a medical-grade air purifier.
Although hypoallergenic rooms are becoming increasingly popular in the industry, the concept is by no means new. Green Suites Hotel Solutions, based in Upland, Calif., for example, says that for 20 years it has been reducing allergens at the 100 or so hotels it contracts with. The company uses only nontoxic, all-natural paints and cleaning products and expects demand for its AllerFresh rooms to triple over the next year, as catering travelers with allergies becomes increasingly trendy.
Travelers who aren't headed to allergy-savvy hotels, meanwhile, aren't condemned to sneezing fits. They can take the initiative to alleviate potential problems, allergists say. For starters, request a room on the highest-available floor, where mold is less likely to grow, says Martha White, a fellow with the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Also avoid rooms near indoor swimming pools, which tend to be among the moldiest. At pet-friendly hotels, ask for a room that's been pet-free for at least 30 days. And when making a reservation, it's OK to request that a hotel avoid spraying any perfumes or room-freshening scents prior to your arrival.
Packing your own allergen-proof pillows (or encasements) can be useful at hotels that provide feather pillows, White says. Likewise, travelers who are allergic to laundry detergent can avoid itchy skin by bringing their own pillowcases, sheets, and towels. And if the room air feels too dry, use the shower as a makeshift humidifier, letting the hot water run long enough to create steam—doing so will keep sinuses moist.