Designing For Disinfection: The Newest Trend in Hotel Design
There is no doubt that the current worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the entire hotel industry, as well as general tourism, air and cruise ship travel, the convention industry and all other travel-related categories. For the hotel industry, the plunge in reservations and RevPAR were precipitous, beginning their dramatic tumble in the first weeks of March 2020, and remaining broadly unrecovered today.
The hotel and travel industries, like so many other industries from manufacturing, sales and services were simply caught unprepared for the advent of the novel coronavirus. The concept of “preparedness” becomes important when we consider the typical market forces that have guided the vast majority of companies since the beginning of the 20th Century.
American enterprise, and even the valuation of most companies, is based on placing efficiency and cost containment over resiliency and preparedness. The obvious result of this orientation is the difference between short-term thinking and long-term planning. The truth is, it’s hard for many companies to shoulder the costs associated with being prepared for “whatever may come” in their desire to operate in the most cost-efficient ways possible.
Even for higher-end luxury hotels, costs are often weighed against the perceived benefit. Buying and stockpiling expensive disinfection equipment, materials and even employee hours, when not faced with a potential pathogenic threat is nearly unthinkable…more of a Hollywood movie plot than anything that might occur in real life.
Things Have Changed
The events of the past 8 months have forced the hotel industry, as well as so many other industries, to reevaluate the notion of efficiency vs. preparedness. And, as we consider the future of travel and hotel accommodations, the implications for hotel design and remodeling creates new opportunities for resiliency and survival in the months and years to come.
Technologies exist today that not only help in the short term, but can be powerful solutions in the future, if the hospitality world places more value on being prepared for any future infectious event. And, it’s important to consider that travelers, driven by concern and in search of peace of mind and higher standards of safety, will be searching for accommodations that provide for higher levels of disinfection. The traveling public will not soon forget the impact and fear created by this pandemic.
One such technology is UV light disinfection. Today, more and more hotels and resorts are turning to the germicidal properties of UV light to quickly disinfect guest rooms, fitness facilities, bathrooms and other public spaces in order to earn the confidence of re-emerging travelers searching for safety protocols that can protect them against the COVID-19 virus. UV light products, if powerful enough, can make spaces where people gather up to 99.9% pathogen-free.
But first, let’s understand a bit of the science behind the germicidal properties of UV light.
How Does Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation Work?
Ultraviolet light is naturally present in sunlight and makes up roughly 10% of the total light generated by the sun. UV is a form of electromagnetic energy with a wavelength from 10 nm to 400 nm, but the germicidal effects are found on the wavelengths of UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C light.
By targeting the sensitive DNA of a pathogenic organism, various wavelengths of UV light can modify the genetic material of microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA causing cell death as well as an inability to reproduce. This disinfection can occur on surfaces and in the air, making high-energy UV light disinfection products perfect for air handling units, food and water purification, surface disinfection and more.
Additionally, UV-B and UV-A light causes oxidation of proteins and lipids causing cell death. Broad spectrum (UV A, B and C) lamps are proven to inhibit photoreactivation, the process that can result in self-repair of damaged microbes. Powerful, clinical-level UV disinfection fixtures can produce strong enough UV light to irradicate microorganisms such as today’s COVID-19 virus, as well as bacteria, molds, and fungi up to a clinical level of 99.9%. This makes UV light disinfection technology also perfect for hotel properties that experience issues with water damage and general mold and fungi growth.
From Rehabbing and Remodeling to New Construction, Build Toward Preparedness
UV disinfection light technology, delivered through small yet powerful units integrated into rooms, restaurants, spas, event spaces and other public areas of a hotel, is one way of seamlessly bringing disinfection into the overall operation of a hotel. The disinfection qualities of UV light have been scientifically proven for well over 100 years. Recent innovations of this technology have made the delivery of UV light disinfection more powerful, flexible and affordable than ever.
From UV lighting products mounted into the ceilings of bathrooms, to portable units that can disinfect all surfaces and the air in hotel rooms, to autonomous robots that follow predetermined paths throughout unpopulated halls and large public areas, hotels can build in clinical-level disinfection cycles to keep guests, staff and visitors safe from infectious diseases. And, unlike traditional housekeeping protocols that use harsh chemical cleaners to wipe down surfaces, UV light can literally inactivate up to 99.9% of viruses, including today’s COVID-19 virus, but can destroy molds, fungi and bacteria that plague so many hotels nationwide.
As architects and lighting specifiers consider helping their hotel clients be as prepared as possible for any future pathogen, as well as provide real solutions for containing the growth of bacteria, molds and fungi, building in UV lighting solutions from the very start will allow hotels to continue to operate responsibly and profitably come what may. The cost of this layer of preparation can be far less than the cost of operational shutdown. And, in time, the overall cost of building in sanitation by UV light can be less than the constant cost of stockpiling additional chemical cleaners and the labor hours needed to do all disinfection by hand.
New UV Disinfection Light Technologies to Watch For
Today, there is a growing number of powerful and effective UV disinfection solutions that hotels can bring to their operations as a way to earn back their guest’s confidence and peace of mind in staying at hotel properties. As we look to the future, there are a number of new technologies on the horizon that will continue to advance the use of UV light disinfection for the benefit of not just the hospitality industry but many other industries as well.
Whether it’s new hotel development or remodeling or retrofitting existing properties to provide a higher level of guest safety and operational preparedness, these new technologies are right around the corner and can create seamless, 360° disinfection solutions.
A topic of great interest and conversation, the era for far UV-C innovation is just beginning as manufacturers and industries discover the potential of this technology. It’s common knowledge that conventional germicidal UVC light, (254 nm wavelength) can disinfect spaces, on surfaces and the air, but the room must be completely empty of people or pets in order to avoid potential harmful effects of direct UV light to skin and eyes.
Far UV-C, at 222 nm wavelength, cannot penetrate the outer skin layer or the tear layer of the eye, so it doesn’t pose any safety concerns for people in the room while disinfection is occurring. As it can’t reach and then damage living cells in people or pets, UV disinfection can occur whenever the need arises, anytime, anyplace and anywhere. There is currently a lot of development, energy and resources devoted to this new technology, most recently because a major university has concluded that far UV-C can, in fact, irradicate SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The impact of far UV-C on the hotel industry could be huge and go a long way in allowing all hotels the chance to continually disinfect as well as protect against any future potential infections.
Integrated Ambient/UV Light Fixtures
Another approaching technology is the ability to create lighting fixtures that merge both traditional ambient lighting with UV disinfection lighting. This would allow installation of lighting fixtures in hotel rooms, bathrooms, meeting and event spaces, spas and more, where disinfection could occur seamlessly, and integrated into pre-programmed building controls and IoT platforms. So, for example, when guests check out of a room, the ambient/UV light fixtures could automatically run their disinfection cycle and room turnover could happen that much quicker.
Today’s LED lighting products do emit extremely small amounts of light in the UV spectrum, but at levels that provide no real disinfection effect. However, UV-LED technology has seen a lot of attention in the past few years, as interest in environmentally friendly UV light production has increased. Current products available can deliver UV light throughout the UV-A, B and C wavelengths, though it’s still a number of years away from being a practical and cost-efficient way to bring UV disinfection to the hotel and other industries.
The Future Will See Innovation and Limitless Possibilities
For the hotel industry, and indeed from categories ranging from healthcare and sports facilities to restaurants and schools, the real future is being written right now. The worldwide pandemic itself has caused the adoption of UV disinfection technologies, and the search for new innovations, to accelerate by 5 to 10 years. Indeed, 8 months ago, most hotel GM’s, executives and owners might not have ever heard of UV light disinfection, let alone considered it. Now, the market for this technology is growing quickly as hospitality companies search for methods to keep their guests and staff safe.
Designing Hotels for Tomorrow
While the lessons of a near-total shutdown for the hotel industry will be indelible and lasting, certainly tourism, travel and hospitality will, at some point, make a full recovery. The need for business travel, along with the age-old desire to explore and experience new things will bring travel back to life. But the memories of the pandemic, altered consumer behavior, and a heightened sense of awareness and caution will drive the hotel industry to build in that extra level of safety, cleanliness and preparedness for all guests in the future.
In fact, there’s indication today that travelers will be asking for, perhaps even demanding, a higher level of hotel cleanliness than ever before. Today, UV disinfection lighting technology can play a big part in winning back travelers to a hotel and hotel brand. And, in the future, building in the layer of preparedness for any new pathogen or infection, can help to safeguard hotel properties from losing revenue, profits and reputation in the blink of an eye.
As new hotel projects are being considered, or remodeling is being done, specifying UV disinfection products are a great way to stay operationally strong and most importantly, resilient well into the future.
Originally published on HotelExecutive.com on November 1, 2020.