Industry Update
Opinion Article 6 December 2012

Do we really understand what makes for guest comfort?

How to enable the business and the guest to manage the different factors that contribute to guest comfort

By Ranjit Gunewardane

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Gunewardane

Introduction

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Hotels can be subdivided into different categories – hotels for business people, leisure travellers, motels, budget hotels, luxury hotels, convention hotels and conference centres etc. However, they all have one point in common: they rent rooms and try to provide guest comfort. Every hotelier knows that if a room is not sold, there is no possibility of making up the loss the next day: the life expectancy of the hotel product is very limited. Viewed from the outside, there is a tendency to adopt global technical solutions for providing occupant comfort including thermal (wellbeing), olfactory (air quality) comfort, with the result that technical systems in hotels may be designed, installed and operated in a similar manner to banks, shopping malls or large office buildings.

There are certainly numerous similarities between a hotel, a hospital, an office building, and a bank. All these buildings have three things in common: they are covered, the environment within the space is conditioned (heated or cooled), and they are occupied by people. Depending on the type of building, the people are employees, customers and/or guests. All of them would like pleasant working or living conditions, the employees to achieve higher productivity, and the customers and guests for a comfortable and safe stay.

Recognise what is different

On the other hand, there are considerable differences between hotels and other types of buildings. A hotel has characteristics of its own:

  • The type and profile of occupants –guests needs differ appreciably from those of bank customers or visitors to a shopping mall.
  • The specific and numerous services offered to guests – corresponding to their daytime and night-time needs and wishes.
  • The hours of activity : 24/7/365
  • The type of activities: from pleasurable idleness to business meetings, leisure and sports activities, and many more.
  • The individualization of comfort: every guest pays to feel at home and expects nothing less.

Designers of Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems for hotels are faced with many challenges of providing suitable indoor environments for the hotel's guests and its employees at an affordable price. This involves consideration of operational costs, system maintainability and degree of environmental control, which includes:

ü Temperature Control

  • Interior Moisture Management (humidity)
  • Pollutant Control (olfactory comfort)
  • Inter-zonal pressure control and the influence of adjoining facilities
  • Internal acoustics quality

Temperature comfort

Comfort is strongly subjective, difficult to grasp, and even less easy to quantify. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that an estimate of thermal comfort depends on several parameters. The parameters influencing thermal comfort are:

  • Ambient temperature
  • Relative Humidity
  • Draughts
  • Level of activity
  • Seasonal clothing

During the winter months, an ambient temperature of 68° to 75° Fahrenheit is acceptable. In summer, it may vary between 72° and 78° Fahrenheit. These comfort values apply to persons taking part in moderate activity and wearing seasonal clothing.

Draughts are the cause of many complaints. Draughts mean local cooling of the human body caused by movement of air and can be very uncomfortable.

The production of metabolic energy increases according to the intensity of effort expended. A moderately "active" person, such as one employed in an office or the public area of a hotel has an activity level 1.2 times a seated person. A very active person in a night club/discotheque can reach a level of two times that of a seated person. Thus an ambient temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit in a guestroom is perceived as being equal to 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the discotheque. As a result, temperature set points need to be varied in different parts of a hotel.

Moisture comfort

Although the moisture content in the air does contribute to comfort, the range of tolerance is quite broad. The most widely accepted value is between 30% and 60%. Moisture from high humidity levels is involved in the growth of biological forms including mould and mildew, plants, and dust mites. Moisture-related biological growth (mostly fungal) can have a major effect on guest and employee health.

Olfactory comfort

Olfactory comfort is the comfort resulting from well-being connected with a sense of smell. It is as vital as it is often neglected by designers and hotel management. Among the five senses, the olfactory sense is the one which is retained in memory the longest.

Restaurants, corridors, auditoriums and banquet halls are examples of locations with considerable variations in occupancy, and could be subject to undesirable odours which may emanate from people, kitchens or building materials. It is therefore, vital to ensure well-designed ventilation, and introduce adequate fresh air from the outside.

As soon as the volume of air necessary for ventilation of the premises is below a certain threshold, the air is confined, odours settle, and the guest feels uncomfortable.

Noise comfort

Sound proofing is one of the most neglected aspects of the architecture of guestrooms. The walls must provide sufficient acoustic insulation to ensure that guests cannot hear telephone conversations or service personnel at work in the adjoining room. The entry door of the guestroom must be well insulated and provided with acoustic seals to muffle sounds in the corridors, such as vacuum cleaners or conversation between guests or service personnel.

In many instances, the noise of the air conditioning unit operating at medium speed is not tolerable during the night. Decibel levels of 60 (the level of sound that a vacuum makes) or higher can distract the guest from getting a comfortable night's sleep. Through-the-wall packaged terminal air conditioner (PTAC) units must be carefully scrutinized for noise levels before purchasing and installing.

Conclusions

Today advanced technology is available and applied to make the technical systems more user-friendly, and provide a fully integrated system to manage the parameters influencing comfort conditions. Make sure your professional services firms understand this and deliver appropriate technologies. The guest will enjoy the environment you provide when you have the right technologies in place to manage each of noise, moisture, smell and heat. And such management needs not only to be by and for the hotel itself, but also, as far as possible, by and for the individual guest. For each of you guests is unique are each and has a unique sense of comfort.

Ranjit Gunewardane

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