Gliding right by the full balcony and picturesque view, her next stop was the spacious bathroom to call attention to the Malin+Goetz allergy-friendly bath products and explain how the shower heads had dedicated filters to remove airway-irritating chlorine. The suite was obviously beautiful, but Amanda was trained to know the specific details of most interest to each guest, and allergy amenities were definitely high on our wish list.
No expense was spared in the $100 million renovations made at The Phoenician in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona. But looking past the calming water features, immaculate cactus garden, sparkling pools, 27-hole championship golf course and $25 million art collection, what truly sets this resort apart is their acute attention to guests. And the heart of this courtesy can be found at their boutique lodging, where we stayed, The Canyon Suites.
“Our general manager has allergies,” says Denise Seomin, The Phoenician’s director of marketing and communications. “Adding hypoallergenic accommodations and full allergen- and gluten-free menus at our top restaurants was a natural progression in our amenities.”
Every six months, the carpets and upholstery in the hypoallergenic rooms are purified with organic products and disinfectants. Dedicated filters are placed in each air conditioning unit along with a cleansing element that continuously battles bacteria with all-natural lemongrass and thyme. To ensure our sniffle-free sleep, the mattress and down-free pillows were encased in dust-mite barrier covers, topped with exquisite Italian sheets.
Upon making our reservation at the Suites, our “ambassador” was appointed to identify any additional requirements that we might have and, above all, to make our upcoming stay memorable. The hospitality included options for gluten-free room service (with other allergen-free needs upon request) and a customized mini-bar based on sensitivities. When asked if they would even go to the store to pick up allergy-friendly food for newly arrived and famished guests, the answer was, “Of course!” Seomin stresses: “Our whole focus is on personalization and being able to tailor each experience to the needs and preferences of our guests.”
“For our new hypoallergenic program, we have a dedicated team that meets every morning to go through special requests and needs,” she explains. “Then we follow up with additional staff communication that outlines these items, so that all associates can be prepared.”
While this may sound like an exclusive couples retreat, The Phoenician has gone to great lengths to ensure that the property is also a family destination, with an expansive kids program and abundant outdoor activities, from croquet to an impressive 165-foot waterslide.
The Phoenician entered allergy and asthma tourism with a grand splash, but they certainly aren’t the only ones diving in. The Fairmont Hotels & Resorts broke new ground in 2011 by rolling out the Lifestyle Cuisine Plus program across the global chain’s onsite restaurants and room service.
The specialized meal choices include gluten-free and vegan (dairy- and egg-free) menus, but the real “plus” is that it didn’t stop there. The program led to extensive allergy-safe food preparation training for chefs and kitchen staff, making Fairmont a leader in food accommodations. On the lodging side, Fairmont provides additional relief by, on request, placing ionizers in guest rooms and making up beds with hypoallergenic pillows and duvets.
As we experienced, the program delivers. Our allergic family traveled to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in British Columbia to be greeted with amazing gluten-free and dairy-free sandwiches, down-free bedding, sensitive skin-care products and a room so fresh that it provided our best sleep of the year, even though it was high pollen season.
But none can compare to the Vancouver airport location, also in British Columbia. This exemplary hotel launched its own allergy-friendly program in 1999 – on a staff suggestion of how to improve the guest experience. It began with feather- and nut-free offerings, and grew from there, helping to influence what later became the brand-wide initiative.
At the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, a full wing of 26 rooms and suites is dedicated as hypoallergenic and pet-free. For air purity, rigorous filters are installed, but the entire hotel boasts a built-in vacuum system that significantly improves air flow and filtration. Deep cleaning is done with Ecolab Green Seal certified products, linens are washed at 300 degrees to eliminate the need for chlorine and all lotion and hair-care treatments are scent- and dye-free. But the hotel is also evolving to accommodate individualized needs.
“There can be sensitivities with air quality, feather, dander, latex, chemicals or food, and each one requires different amenities,” notes Ken Flores, general manager at the luxury airport location. “We have our ‘base’ hypoallergenic rooms, but from there we add on whatever the guests require. Different cleaners can be used, room service can accommodate or if a HEPA filter is requested, we can provide that at no cost.”
In fact, this hotel is one of the few that doesn’t charge an additional nightly fee for hypoallergenic rooms (which start at $279). And while an airport locale may not seem like a destination, the management will quickly point out their award-winning cuisine, tripled-glazed soundproof rooms, on-site spa, fitness center, ‘touching the airport’ proximity, and ease of the Skytrain, which whisks guests to beautiful downtown Vancouver in 20 traffic-free minutes.
Off to Chicago, then Hawaii
“We sell an ‘experience’ that is turnkey for hotels and offers consistency to allergic customers,” says Brian Brault, CEO of PURE Solutions. His company employs a patented seven-step process to purify rooms, from floor to ceiling.
When a hotel signs on with PURE, it typically converts 5 to 10 percent of the rooms, preferably in a block, wing or entire floor. All hard and soft surfaces in each room are deep-cleaned and disinfected, and the room is sealed for a high ozone shock treatment to ensure sanitization. Technicians then apply the company’s proprietary static barrier to the walls, carpet, furniture and drapes, which reportedly eliminates microorganisms.
Mattresses and pillows are sealed in micro-fiber encasements with reinforced seams – which fend off any lingering dust mites.
To keep the air clean, PURE installs a medical-grade, four-stage ULPA air filtration system (ranked above HEPA filtering), which is designed to kill 98 to 100 percent of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Finally, all air handling systems are thoroughly cleaned and a tea tree oil insert (which can be easily removed upon request) is added as a natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent. PURE returns every six months to perform testing, and every two years they repeat this initial purification process.
“We don’t want to have to rely on the hotel staff to maintain, so we take an aggressive approach,” says Brault. He does admit that there is margin for error when working with hotel staff: an anti-dust mite pillow casing could go missing in the laundry or a staff member could turn off the air filter. But even if the room door is left open, allowing outside elements to temporarily visit, Brault reassures that the room will correct itself in 20 to 30 minutes of the door closing.
PURE currently limits their services to cleaning, covering, and ongoing purification, but most hotels that employ Brault’s service tend to go the extra mile with fragrance-free toiletries and additional allergy-friendly amenities.
PURE has even gone offshore, literally, with 70 staterooms on Crystal Cruises’ ultra-lux Serenity ship. Beginning this winter, travelers can enjoy going port to port throughout the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Asia while taking in the fresh air at sea and in-room, at no additional cost (starting at $1,950/six-day cruise).
According to Brault, the demand for PURE rooms has expanded rapidly, with 1.4 million guests per year now experiencing these hypoallergenic upgrades. “We get feedback all the time that these rooms change people’s lives.”
Above and Beyond
Experts in the hospitality industry are thinking of new and creative ways to help their guests breathe easier:
- Seaport Boston Hotel and World Trade Center reduces irritants with a non-toxic electrolyzed water-cleaning system and a chlorine-reducing solution in their pool.
- Golden Arrow Resort at Lake Placid, New York forgoes dust-gathering upholstery and carpeting for leather furniture that repels dust mites, and renewable bamboo floors.
- The Fairmont Vancouver Airport provides synthetic bedding with the feel of feather and offers afternoon tea with gluten-free sandwiches and desserts.
- Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa went smoke-free on their entire property and renovated guest rooms with low-VOC paints to minimize off-gassing.