Indoor air quality in hotels: a case study

Mariolina Longo, Matteo Mura November 2, 2023 6 min read

Indoor air quality, often abbreviated as “IAQ” (Indoor Air Quality) has become a crucial issue in the hospitality industry, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has highlighted the need for accurate data in order to make strategic decisions. Indeed, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the industry, with an estimated 80 percent loss of tourism revenues. This has made it imperative to start thinking about new approaches and processes to manage crises and increase resilience.

A recent study, conducted by Bologna Business School’s professors Sara Zanni, Matteo Mura and Mariolina Longo, together with Gabriella Motta and Davide Caiulo of the Department of Research and Development, Planetwatch, SaS, St. Genis-Pouilly, France, examined this aspect in depth, with the aim of proposing the first comprehensive framework for the study of IAQ in hospitality facilities. This is particularly relevant given that poor air quality has been linked to increased infections and deaths during the pandemic. Even under non-pandemic conditions, however, air pollution is considered responsible for a loss of life expectancy comparable to that caused by smoking tobacco.

The developed framework is based on the implementation of a network of innovative sensors in different areas of the facilities, along with the application of a comprehensive set of statistical analyses. This allows management access to information about possible problems and applicable measures. The framework was then tested in an accommodation facility in Italy, and this enabled data to be collected on various environmental and air pollution parameters with high frequency (5-minute intervals) for more than six months, examining both endogenous factors influencing IAQ (such as human activities, standard cleaning, disinfection, cooking and room occupancy, as well as air treatment and ventilation) and exogenous factors (such as outdoor conditions, changing seasons and air pollution). This work lays the foundation for the design of advanced management systems that can optimize operations, promoting health and safety for both guests and staff. A necessary effort, considering that the topic of indoor air quality in hospitality facilities has so far been marginal, despite ample evidence of its impact on guest perceptions in terms of sleep quality, online reviews, and cleanliness of facilities.

The first aspect to emerge from the study is the effect of seasonal variations on volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The analysis found that there is uneven variation in different areas-a crucial finding, as it suggests that IAQ management strategies need to be adapted according to the season and the specific area of the hotel. For example, more effective ventilation systems may need to be implemented in the fitness center during the summer months, when the use of this area is more intense.

Another key point of the study is the effect of outdoor pollution on IAQ. Using Pearson’s correlation, the researchers compared PM2.5 concentrations inside the hotel with data published by ARPA [the Regional Agency for the Protection of the Environment] Piemonte for the Turin Lingotto monitoring station. The results showed a positive correlation between outdoor and indoor pollution for almost all areas except guest rooms. This is particularly relevant for hotels located in urban areas with high traffic density, as it suggests that IAQ is directly influenced by the surrounding environment.

The analysis also examined the effect of human activities on IAQ. For example, cleaning operations showed a significant impact on air quality in the fitness center. This is of particular concern since people who exercise are more vulnerable to the negative effects of air pollution. In the restaurant and kitchen, PM2.5 peaks were closely correlated with mealtimes, suggesting that cooking activities are a significant source of indoor air pollution.

These findings have several practical implications for hotel management. For example, it could be useful to review and update cleaning and ventilation protocols in the most problematic areas. In addition, providing customers with transparent IAQ information could not only improve their experience but also serve as a competitive advantage for the facility. From a theoretical standpoint, the study contributes to the growing literature on the importance of IAQ in the hospitality industry, as well as providing a framework for future studies and underscoring the need for further research to explore how factors such as seasonality, outdoor pollution, and human activities interact and influence air quality. Another noteworthy aspect is the pandemic effect of COVID-19: intensified cleaning and disinfection measures had a noticeable impact on VOC levels, especially in the fitness center. This raises further questions about how to balance the need for hygiene with the need to maintain good air quality.

In conclusion, this study offers a detailed and multifaceted picture of indoor air quality in a hotel environment, providing practical and theoretical insights. It also emphasizes the importance of continuous monitoring and a proactive approach to IAQ management, especially at a time when air quality is increasingly the focus of public attention. Regarding future lines of research, it would be interesting to explore the effect of different air quality management strategies on customer experience and hotel economic performance. 

This article is based on
Indoor air quality monitoring and management in hospitality: an overarching framework
Emerald Publishing Limited
Matteo Mura, Mariolina Longo, Sara Zanni, Gabriella Motta, Davide Caiulo