|By Levi J. Long, The Arizona Daily Star,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 3, 2006 - In his travels around the country, Jim Andrada says he's gotten used to the "institutional smells" of some hotel rooms.
During a recent business trip to the Old Pueblo, Andrada decided to try something different to get away from certain smoky odors and rented a new "allergy-friendly room" at the Doubletree Hotel Tucson at Reid Park , 445 S. Alvernon Way.
As part of its $2.5 million renovation, the hotel recently converted 10 fifth-floor rooms into allergen-resistant spaces with a control system designed to cut down on contaminants, irritants, mold spores, dust and odors in the air.
"It felt cleaner," said Andrada, after a night in the room. "The air was a lot clearer. Usually I get the sniffles, but this time, nothing."
Though the rooms appeal to those sensitive to smells, owners of the Doubletree are targeting those who suffer from allergies, asthma and other respiratory illnesses -- estimated at more than 70 million Americans, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.
"You're never completely free from allergens, but you can minimize dust and dander found in rooms," said Helinda Lizarranga, assistant general manager at the Doubletree Hotel Tucson.
The system uses a seven-step process to convert the rooms into allergen-resistant environments, which includes spraying down furniture with a special chemical designed to kill bacteria on room surfaces and placing an ozone generator inside the room for further cleansing.
The rooms also feature a Class 2 medical-grade air purifier, hypoallergenic linens and covers, and charcoal-activated shower heads in the bathrooms designed to remove chlorine vapors.
After cleaning and sanitizing heating and cooling ducts, coils and fans, tea tree oil, in a gel form, is placed in the room's ventilation system as way to keep bacteria from forming, said Brian Brault, CEO of Pure Solutions North America, a New York-based company which markets the allergen-resistant system for hotel rooms.
The company markets itself as the first to offer an allergen-friendly system developed specifically for the hospitality industry and has systems installed in 12 other hotel franchises including the Hampton Inn, the Residence Inn by Marriott, the Sheraton, and The Peninsula in Beverly Hills.
The Tucson Doubletree is the first hotel in Arizona to use the Pure system, Brault said.
Typical room conversion using Pure systems cost $2,100 which includes a two-year maintenance plan, Brault said.
Tucson Doubletree owners said they picked Tucson to try the system first because of the desert's climate, dust and seasonal allergy factors.
"It gives guests an option to stay in an allergy-friendly room. That's a freedom unique to those who suffer from allergies, asthma and respiratory problems," said Noah Alpern special projects manager for American Property Management Corporation, owners of the Tucson Doubletree.
A Tucson allergy specialist said he applauds the hotel's effort to address indoor allergens but said there is no foolproof method to stop all irritants in the air.
"It's a good step, and I agree with that," Dr. Martin Bartels said.
But academic research on tea tree oil and ozone treatments doesn't show any dramatic results in improving air quality, he said.
"Tucson outdoor air is laden with pollen and other irritants," he said. "It's difficult to remove this stuff from the air."
Tom Pickles, director of operations for Pure Solutions, agreed that tea tree oil and ozone in the air may not directly improve air quality.
But depending on where they are placed, they can prevent surface growth of allergens that can become airborne, he said.
For example, part of the system includes placing the tea tree oil near coils and fan blades, areas prone to microbial growth, Pickles said.
"The interventions are designed to prevent irritants from getting into the air," he said. "If you can put the tea tree oil in a place where bacteria can grow, you can reduce potential irritants."
The hotel isn't making guarantees for serious medical conditions either and only hope the Pure system will serve those concerned with cleaner indoor air.
"We're not making promises. We're just trying to add to the guest experience," Alpern said.
After visiting a hotel trade show last winter, American Property Management officials decided to install the Pure system, due in part to guests asking for nonsmoking and more allergy friendly options.
In recent years, the Tucson Doubletree has decreased the number of smoking rooms, down last year from 24 to 10 this year, Lizarranga said.
"The demand is less and less. Even smokers don't sleep in smoking rooms anymore," she said.
Dependent on how the allergy-friendly program is received, Lizarranga said they plan to offer the rooms as an upgraded option, charging between 10 and 20 percent more for the cost.
American Property Management Corp. is also planning to install the Pure system at the Doubletree Hotel Albuquerque, if the program in Tucson goes well, Alpern added.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
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