– Fatima de la Cerna | Assistant Editor
If there’s one thing about Emirates Palace that Eng Irina Kurbatova would like to highlight as proof that the hotel takes the issue of indoor air quality (IAQ) seriously, it is the lack of odour in its rooms as well as in the common areas – no floral-scented air freshener or the heady, overwhelming smell of perfume greeting you when you enter the lobby, and definitely no cooking aromas spilling out of the kitchen.
Sharing the view that many of their guests have commented on the lack of noticeable smell, the hotel’s Environment, Health and Safety Director says that the management has decided against using air sprays or “artificial scents” out of respect for the different preferences and conditions of the people staying at the hotel, including the employees. “We have people who are sensitive to strong smells staying here; people with asthma,” says Kurbatova. “We have to think about them. We don’t want to give them a reason to complain or feel uncomfortable, so instead we’re promoting healthy indoor air quality. We have a very comprehensive policy when it comes to the procurement of materials like paint or carpets. There are criteria to be met, the most important being that they are environment-friendly and have minimal, if not zero, chemical content. Also, we’re prioritising ventilation and proper air filtration.”
Emirates Palace, she adds, is equipped with filters and sensors that are connected to the hotel’s BMS, which is monitored by their engineering department 24/7. As per Kurbatova, the BMS has been programmed to alert the engineering staff when filters need changing or when humidity or CO2 levels have gone beyond the specified range or when any deviation in air quality – when there’s smoke or gas, for instance – is detected.
Even the doors are equipped with sensors, she says, and explains why that is important: “One challenge that we have is that the hotel has many doors. It’s quite difficult to control. Guests are going out, coming in. If you have just one door left open, the air quality inside will be affected. So we have sensors for the doors. If a door is left open for more than the specified length of time, it will trigger some kind of alarm and the BMS will notify us.”
In addition to having sensors, the hotel has a strict policy on smoking. “Guests are only allowed to smoke in balconies,” says Kurbatova, “and even then, not in all balconies. We have floors that are completely smoke-free, so guests who don’t smoke can enjoy their time in the balconies without being bothered by a neighbour. We have isolated the smoking rooms and floors.”
And if guests were to ignore the no-smoking policy? “We’ll know straightaway because of the sensors in the rooms,” she says. “We’ll be notified. Sensors are everywhere. We have them in the kitchen, as well as air filtration and exhaust systems.”
The BMS has been programmed to alert the engineering staff when filters need changing or when humidity or CO2 levels have gone beyond the specified range or when any deviation in air quality is detected
Besides investing in technology like sensors, the hotel conducts periodic IAQ testing, which is said to be on the recommendation of Kempinski, the group managing Emirates Palace.
On why Kempinski and Emirates Palace are choosing to pay close attention to IAQ, Kurbatova states that it mainly goes back to giving the guests what they require and ask for. “Our guests have high expectations, and many of them have become more cautious when it comes to issues like air quality,” she says. “Before they even arrive, they ask about the systems that we have in place. And we also deal with professional tour operators who check whether we control air and water quality. So it’s not about complying with some government regulation; it’s about customer requirements and expectations.”
That is not to say that Emirates Palace is not following any standard, she is quick to state, sharing that the hotel complies with ISO 14001 as well as with European and other international standards. “We have guests coming from all over the world, so our standards are basically a harmonisation of different standards, which we take from the tourism authority, from the federal government and from international standards.”
Returning her attention to the topic of controls and BMS, she clarifies that their benefits are not limited to IAQ-related concerns, stating that they make it possible to monitor and control the hotel’s energy and water consumption, thus helping ensure that it is efficiently and sustainably run.
“We are doing our best when it comes to adopting sustainable practices,” she says. “But it’s sometimes difficult to balance sustainability requirements, in terms of water and energy usage, with the needs of the guests. Like I mentioned, we have sensors everywhere – in the corridors, for example, we have light sensors. But what about water? If guests have a Jacuzzi in their rooms, you can’t ask them not to use it and take a shower, instead. We are not a regular hotel, after all; we are a palace. So, yes, it can be challenging, but we are finding other ways of complying with sustainability targets.”
The Kempinski management, she claims, is lining up several sustainability programmes not only for Emirates Palace but also for all its brands, the details of which will reportedly be revealed soon. In the meantime, they are maintaining their landscaped gardens, which have earned points from Estidama for providing guests with views and outdoor shading. Furthermore, they are doing their best to encourage their guests to do their share through seemingly small gestures, like reusing towels – only seemingly, she points out, emphasising that even the smallest starts can go a long way in helping preserve the environment and creating much-needed awareness.