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Hilton at Chicago Airport Provides Haven for Guests With Allergies

CHICAGO, Ill. (April 27, 2005) -- In an innovative experiment aimed at travelers with allergies or asthma, the Hilton O'Hare Airport has given extreme makeovers to two guestrooms to dramatically reduce the dust, molds and chemicals in the air.
If the overhauled "enviro-rooms" that debuted Friday prove popular with guests over the next month, the hotel will consider expanding the program to more than 300 rooms that are scheduled for renovation.

By then, "we'll know whether the project has legs," said J. Peter Lynn, general manager of the 858-room hotel.

Environmental Technology Solutions Inc., of Glen Ellyn, orchestrated the massive makeovers, removing just about everything from the existing rooms, including flooring, wall coverings, drapes, furniture and bedding.

Then the rooms were outfitted with hardwood floors, non-vinyl wallpaper, all-cotton bedding, wooden blinds, wooden furniture, chemical filters on the showerheads, fragrance-free toiletries, air filters and air-quality monitors, said Nicholas Nardella, president of ETS. Cleaning crews will use products that are free of toxins such as ammonia or bleach.

The radical retrofit, thought to be the first of its kind in the U.S., won kudos from a group representing people with allergies and asthma.

"We would be very hopeful that it could work, and that other hotel chains would catch on to make it more comfortable for the 60 million Americans who suffer with allergies to travel," said Angel Waldron, a spokeswoman for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Hotel industry consultant Ted Mandigo agrees there would be demand for such rooms, but he notes the retrofits would be quite expensive, ranging from $7,000 to $15,000 per room. The Hilton declined to disclose its cost for retrofitting its two rooms.

And it remains to be seen whether hotels would be able to charge a premium for the rooms, or whether they would have to offer them as just one more guest amenity.

For the first two weeks of its trial, the Hilton O'Hare is offering the rooms at no additional cost to frequent customers who have indicated on questionnaires that they have allergies. Then, for the next two weeks, the hotel will charge an as-yet-undetermined premium for the rooms, to see if patrons are willing to pay extra for them.

"If we think there's a return on the investment and that it makes customers happier," said Lynn, "then we'll go back to Hilton and see how this can be incorporated [throughout the company.]"

And other companies may copy the model if they see it takes off or that it generates good publicity for the brand, said Mandigo, who is based in Elmhurst.

Meanwhile, this experiment has personal meaning for Lynn.

"My wife and two sons have a whole host of sensitivities, and when we're on the road, my wife says, 'Gee, wouldn't it be nice to have rooms where air quality is controlled,' " he said. "So, we're trying to find ways to enhance customer stays."


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