As the deteriorating air quality across cities in India has made frequent headlines, the hospitality industry and air purifying solution providers are going the extra mile to provide their guests with optimal IAQ. Akshay Nayak spoke to the industry experts to learn how IAQ has become a USP for the hospitality industry of the country
Air pollution has been on the rise in India for decades now. Reasons of which are over a dozen including booming infrastructure, swollen automobile sales in the country, and the overall increase in industrial output, among others, all summing up to the rising percentage of pollutants in the air.
As per a report by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which reports on the air quality of 70 cities across India, for the period between October and November 2018, more than 40 cities had ‘Moderate’, ‘Poor’ and ‘Very Poor’ air quality on a scale with ‘Good’ and ‘Severe’ air quality conditions being the extremes. Moderate air quality, as per CPCB, translates to breathing discomfort faced by the people with lungs, asthma and heart diseases, while poor and very poor categories decode that even healthy residents will be faced with respiratory illness with prolonged exposure to the atmospheric air.
IAQ – the market
The hospitality industry experts feel that the residents and other industries in the country are well aware about the poor ambient air quality indoors for which an increasing demand for air purifiers, both resident and industrial, is witnessed from across the country. India’s residential air purifiers market is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 29 per cent from the current US$ 14.14 mn to US$ 38.99 mn by 2023, backed by rapid urbanisation, increased purchasing power, expanding the urban population and deteriorating air quality, according to a report by PTI.
“In 2017, industrial air filters market stood at US$ 293.27 million and is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 6.07 per cent to cross US$ 392.63 million by 2023. Also, the need for frequent replacement of air filters in the construction sector is spurring demand for air filters,” the report further read.
As a testimony for the increasing awareness among the modern-day travellers about air quality, Ajay Bakaya, managing director, Sarovar Hotels & Resorts, voiced, “The awareness of travellers about air quality and its parameters is increasing. It has been observed recently that few Foreign Individual Travelers (FITs) were carrying IAQ Monitors. These IAQ Monitors are readily available in the market and are very handy for monitoring the air quality. In case of unsatisfactory IAQ, these travellers demand implementation of needful measures. It is only a matter of time that IAQ becomes a necessity for hotels along with other hygiene and safety standards.”
Rahul Pabalkar, MD, Aspa Watermelon Hospitality Infrastructure Company and past president – ASHRAE Pune, agreed with Bakaya’s perspective saying that poor indoor air quality is indeed a very important responsibility that hoteliers have to address. “With the continuous news of worsening air quality in our cities, travellers are now more alert and expect that the hotels they prefer at least provide them better quality air,” he added.Ashish Gupta, sales head, B2B, Sharp Commercial Air Purifier also spoke on similar lines, saying that the consumers are choosy about the place they stay in when away from home. Not only the guests are demanding a neat and clean area, but they also insist on pollution-free indoor air quality, he added.
Arvind Dhiman, director of engineering, JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru is positive about the increasing popularity of air purifiers and other air quality maintaining equipment. “Yes, indoor air quality is as important as the quality of the food we eat. The standards will rise every passing day to a higher level as the outside air quality drops more and more. There will be an organic growth happening in good air quality sector similar to what is taking place in food production and process industry,” he noted.
As per a report, the Assocham-TechSci Research joint study said some other key factors expected to drive the market are growing technological advancements, aggressive marketing strategies by air purifier companies, increasing incidences of airborne diseases and aspiration to lead a healthier lifestyle which is anticipated to boost demand for air purifying equipment.
Hospitality industry’s perception about IAQ
While the guests are well-travelled and equipped with all the technology to track air quality, hospitality brands in the country are well aware of the importance of good indoor air quality and go the extra mile to make the guest’s stay all-round comfortable.
“The hospitality industry is undergoing a significant change with trends defining the experience of guests. Hotels across the globe are introducing new things to accentuate and upkeep their brand name. With the much talked about poor air quality in most Indian cities and the recent reports, it has become imperative that hotels offer cleaner and healthier air to their guests. It is no longer a matter of offering superior services and facilities to its guests but a basic necessity,” expressed Ahraaz Khan, marketing leader, Connected Living Solutions, Honeywell Building Technologies, India, in this regard.
IAQ is the key area of focus for the hospitality industry in India recently. Shashi Shekhar, MD, Camfil Air Filtration India, noted, “There has been increase in talks about the IAQ level in hospitality industry to provide the best comfortable experience to their customers and it has become very evident in big five-star hotel chains and leading restaurants where they have started thinking about clean air as a necessity for their guests. They have started looking out for innovative technologies which are best suited and at the same time energy efficient.”
As a standard operating procedure by most of the hotel brands in India, Bakaya mentioned that generally, hotel air conditioning is supplemented with Treated Fresh Air (TFA) units. “TFAs are equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Filters (HEPA filters) to check quality of fresh air being pumped into guest rooms and public areas. To ensure high quality IAQ, especially in the guest rooms and guest room corridors, stand-alone air purifiers are used. It is extremely crucial to maintain bacteria/virus free IAQ in public areas such as the reception lobby, restaurants and banquet halls. To achieve this, apart from HEPA filters, UV tubes can also be installed inside Air Handling Units (AHU). These UV tubes facilitate in keeping the coil clean by way of killing the bacteria/ virus and eliminating the possibility of gel formation,” shared Bakaya.
Combating challenges and ongoing trends
Although the hospitality industry strives to maintain commendable IAQ, there is a multitude of challenges associated with the same – right from the complexity associated with maintaining the electricity guzzling equipment, utility costs, training manpower about the equipment and its functioning process, etc.
As a strategic approach to combat the costly affair associated with operating TFAs, Bakaya decoded, “To optimise the utilities cost, dew point temperature of the air and the chilled water temperatures of aircon plant is adjusted depending upon the humidity of outside air. Nowadays, technology plays a crucial role in monitoring outdoor and IAQ parameters. Microprocessors in air conditioning units are programmed with necessary algorithms to throttle the chilled water or TFA coil temperatures as per need. In the past, these parameters were being controlled manually. Now because of technology these machines almost work in ‘Auto’ mode with minimal manual intervention thereby ensuring efficiency.”
According to Pabalkar, part of the problem of IAQ is addressed by adopting and exceeding requirements of stringent green building ratings like LEED, which are internationally recognised. These LEED ratings have customised versions for existing hospitality projects where they also assess the indoor environment quality. This is being done by leading hotel chains like ITC Hotels.
“Additionally, the operations & maintenance team has to be trained continually to ensure that the air-filters are regularly cleaned and maintained, and the state-of-the-art systems are in place to process the incoming air. Monitoring of important parameters like CO2 and VOCs are also important. Several other features like indoor plants and water streams which absorb pollutants and give fresh and pure air continuously are also being considered imperative,” said Pabalkar. The outdoor areas of the hotel premises, which form the micro-climate around the hotel also play a crucial role in addressing the IAQ issue.
Also, educating the guests about the initiatives at the hotel by third-party dashboards as provided by LEED – which show the IAQ score of the facility real-time – does make a difference, and helps in making the guests feel sure and safe, and hence their decision making, feels Pabalkar. “Some hotels are also trying to display the indoor and outdoor air quality levels in their reception areas for the guests to acknowledge that the efforts taken by the facility to ensure better air quality,” he added.
Interestingly, as suggestive measures to leverage IAQ, Nishant Saxena, jt secretary, PHA and executive housekeeper at Gokulam Grand Hotel & Spa, Bengaluru, said, “Upkeep of AC equipment and proper preventive maintenance of the fresh air systems and fan coil units is important. We can ensure or reassure our guests on our pure air systems. Whereas also by avoiding stagnant water in the trays, fungus formation of the canvas and blocking of the coils by bacteria are avoided by practising proper maintenance and also ensuring air filters are always maintained well without any blockages. Also, we maintain our return air system well by cleaning of the ducts very often, to ensure the pure air is well circulated again.”
While Delhi has been a gas chamber of late, Taj Palace claims that it maintains the air quality in the national capital with utmost diligence. Rothin Banerjee, director of engineering, Taj Palace, New Delhi, said, “In its endeavour to ensure IAQ control, Taj Palace, New Delhi, a pioneer in luxury hospitality has installed Electronic Air Cleaners (EAC) in all the AHUs and TFAs of the hotel that feed the controlled quality air in the lobby, guestrooms, Jiva Spa and banquet venues. The EAC is an electrostatic precipitator, a device that uses an electric charge to remove impurities – either solid particles or liquid droplets – from the air. The electronic air cleaner functions by applying energy only to the particulate matter to be collected, without significantly impeding the flow of air. A team of experts at the hotel constantly monitor the air quality levels and also ensure periodic air quality tests are done by an external laboratory. The hotel’s air quality levels are displayed live at the lobby for guests to see. With the implementation of this special initiative, Taj Palace, New Delhi has been able to maintain the national ambient air quality standard.”
Meanwhile, air-purifying solutions providers are introducing new range of state-of-the-art retrofittable products driven by smart technology in order to make it more simpler for hoteliers to operate and also help them save on costs.
At present, hotels are faced with the dual task of bringing down the high-energy consumption costs while also providing cleaner air. Many hotels use media filters to filter air pollutants; however, media filters create resistance for the air leading to higher energy consumption. Honeywell recently launched EACs that the company claims to clean air more efficiently with much lower energy loss. “They work on the principle of electrostatic precipitation to clean the air of particulate matter. They are IGBC Green Pro certified. They are retrofittable, and only need to be cleaned with a detergent solution from time to time. Since the EACs do not use any consumables, they reduce the total cost of ownership and make for an efficient adoption by the hotels to provide an enhanced experience to their guests,” explained Khan about the features of the new EACs.
Speaking about the product, Anil Kumar, director engineering, The Imperial New Delhi expressed, “We have had great success with the implementation of the Honeywell EAC technology at our hotel. The Honeywell EACs are a filterless technology with no opex of filter changes (for 10 years), and since the pressure drop is far lower than the existing pre-filter and media filters on AHUs and TFAs, there is considerable energy saving as well.” “It is pretty typical to see an ROI within 2-2.5 years, which makes this investment saving on utility costs. Also, we have installed Air Quality Monitors, the information from which can be relayed on a channel in the guest rooms as well as the smartphones in hotel guests/staff real-time, through an app, to deliver peace of mind, as well as loyalty through transparency,” he added.
Camfil as a pioneer in the field of providing clean air solutions is continuously working towards providing energy-efficient and most suitable products and services to their customers in the business of hotels and restaurants, claimed Shekhar. “We always suggest them to keep the minimum level of IAQ as per standards prescribed by WHO. We have products which are plug an play in nature and help you reduce pollution to the very minimum level of almost eliminating it. These can be customised also according to the need of the premises. We are one of the pioneers who are talking about PM1 which is a greater threat than the common PM10 and PM2.5. We have developed technology in our product which can get you the exact data of the PM1 level and have introduced products to keep that level in control to provide healthy air. The best part about this is that you do not even need to do any modification to your existing air purification system and still can achieve the desired results.”
Sharp’s patented Plasmacluster Ion Technology helps in deactivating various types of bacteria, viruses, fungus, and mould and keeps the indoor air healthy and fresh, informed Gupta about the company’s USPs. “It also removes unpleasant odour and smells from the room, making the air as natural as nature. Sharp also has models with Merv 14 true HEPA filters, which removes particulate matter as small as 0.3 microns, up to 99.97 per cent,” he added.
Optimum IAQ as a USP Having all the things in place, experts feel that hotels can leverage providing IAQ as their USP. Darashbir Singh, director, Accor – engineering services India & South Asia, highlighted that since decades all hotels follow ASHRAE codes that specify ventilation rates to be determined for a specific area as per occupant and usage area. “Yes, as pollution attracts attention and serious discussions and debates take over, hotels tend to use it as a USP like displaying pollution screens, installing air purifiers in public areas to make their guests feel safe,” he expressed.
Indicating similar viewpoint, Kumar said, “Today, air quality has become a USP for marketing for upscale and upper-upscale hotels but is not restricted to the luxury segment only. Hotels are increasingly becoming more vocal about their efforts and their state-of-the-art clean air rooms, pointing towards the fact that indoor air is becoming a major deciding factor for guests. IAQ has become a selling point today in the hotel industry, along with other hygiene and safety standards.”
“Yes, I do believe that IAQ has become a USP. The prospect of establishing good standards of indoor air quality is always considered as it plays a vital role in protecting human health. We are also aware that it is a major environmental concern and hence, we at Sheraton Grand Chennai Resort & Spa are taking steps to combat it,” concluded Jeyanth R, chief engineer at Sheraton Grand Chennai Resort and Spa.