Web Exclusive: Carbon Lighthouse survey analyzes consumer sentiment on indoor air quality

Indoor air quality (IAQ) has been a topic of conversation in the hotel industry since the pandemic began. Guests need to be assured that the air they breathe in guestrooms, public spaces, restaurants and other areas of the property is free from pollutants and pathogens that can cause sickness and respiratory issues.

Carbon Lighthouse, an energy savings-as-a-service company delivering climate solutions for commercial real estate (CRE) portfolios, recently polled 1,000 U.S.-based consumers on the topic of IAQ in the built environment and released those findings in a report titled “U.S. Consumer Sentiment on Indoor Air Quality and COVID-19.”

The survey found that 77% of respondents said proof about a hotel’s IAQ would impact their decision on where to stay, with 52% willing to pay more to stay at a hotel with better IAQ.

Hotel Business connected with JJ Steeley, Carbon Lighthouse’s chief marketing officer, who discussed the findings in the report, as well as offered ways hotels can improve IAQ.

JJ Steeley

Why was it important to do this survey? IAQ has never been more critical or more top of mind for consumers. The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and people remain hesitant, some even fearful, to re-enter public buildings and stay in hotels due to COVID-19 spread concerns.

Based on the survey results, it became clear that consumers need more data and insight on a property’s IAQ to make informed decisions about the properties and hotels they enter. Yet, general IAQ best practices, like 100% air turnover, can significantly increase energy costs when hospitality is still reeling from the pandemic’s financial impacts. This is why AI-driven solutions can help the industry address immediate IAQ concerns using their unsung hero, the HVAC system, as a critical component of economic recovery and reopening strategies. Having the right data about the HVAC system will equip hoteliers with the insights needed to ensure implemented IAQ COVID-19 measures have the desired effect. Also, leveraging data-backed results of these measures can be shared with guests and investors alike to create a competitive edge, whether for retaining properties and preparing for disposition or enticing future bookings. Like how sustainability requirements became a significant part of group booking decisions, we can expect to see IAQ top of the list for future conditions as employers prioritize their employees’ health and safety while traveling.

Were you surprised at any of the results, and why? We were not necessarily surprised by the results, but they did provide an “aha moment” that confirmed what we had been hearing from our clients, tenants and guests.

As mentioned earlier, more than half of the respondents (52%) said that they would pay more to stay at a hotel with better IAQ, which sets the tone for the economic recovery and rebound of CRE, hotels included. Our survey also found that the vast majority (91%) understand that IAQ is critical in the continued fight against COVID-19 and simply expect buildings to provide this information.

Consumers increasingly have access to real-time data in almost every aspect of their personal lives. In California, for example, many turn to a website that provides real-time, data-backed updates on outdoor air quality, often used amid wildfires. This data is a driving force for determining whether it is safe to go outside, take a walk or run an errand away from home. The same should be true for the IAQ of any indoor property, given that the risk of viral spread increases indoors. For hotels, owners must ensure that their properties can adequately deliver safe IAQ and effectively communicate that to current and future guests.

More than three-quarters of respondents said that proof of a hotel’s IAQ would impact their decision to stay at the property. What kind of proof would be sufficient? The proof is in the data. It’s no longer enough for a hotel (or any building at that) to simply claim that it addressed IAQ and that guests should feel comfortable. Regardless of being a guest or investor, people want to know specific details on IAQ, how it is being managed and how the hotel compares to other buildings and standards set by industry authorities.

To properly equip hotel owners and operators with accurate insights on IAQ and other aspects of the property’s systems, modernized AI and data analytics are a must. Data-backed solutions provide a full view of the impact of implemented measures and enable property teams to make quick operational adjustments as needed. Without this technology in place, hoteliers can’t demonstrate if any actions have the desired effect on air quality.

How can data help hotels with improving their IAQ? Data provides hotel owners and operators with a valuable window into how their systems operate and what changes are needed. By establishing a continuous data stream and leveraging AI analytics, accurate and trackable results are well within reach. Whether optimizing the property for post-COVID-19 economic recovery or disposition, building data creates memorable differentiators in the minds of guests and investors alike.

What type of technology or HVAC enhancements can a hotel implement to improve IAQ while also helping it financially? Correctly working HVAC systems, like establishing proper airflow, must be a priority for all hotels to prevent COVID-19 and other airborne viruses from spreading. However, this is an impossible task if the system has leaky ducts, which most do, according to the Department of Energy.

We’ve recommended hotels use MERV 13+ air filters and pay close attention to dilution and ventilation. The system should measure OA (outdoor air) supply in ACH (air changes per hour) based on space’s dimensions and the air handling unit’s (AHU) fan speed to ensure the building is bringing in fresh outdoor air and removing potentially contaminated indoor air. Specifically, we recommend providing the following IAQ metrics to help consumers make informed decisions:

Relative humidity
Carbon dioxide
PM2.5” (fine particulate matter)
Outdoor air

Is there anything else your company is working on that our readers in the hospitality industry may be interested in? There’s a mounting need for CRE and hospitality to demonstrate data-backed proof of their carbon reduction impact. Whether the demand stems from the new administration’s climate change plan, Limited Partners (LPs) seeking funds committed to environmental, social and governance (ESG) or upcoming environmental restrictions such as Law 97 (Carbon Emissions Bill) in New York City, change is on the horizon. Given our company mission’s alignment to stop climate change, we’re excited for this shift and the continued need to help hotel and CRE owners and investors achieve their climate-related and ESG goals.