Interview: Niklas Moeller

BHN caught up with Niklas Moeller, Vice President with K.R Moeller Associates, to find out about the challenges facing hospitality providers when it comes to noise management…

What are the main sources of noise disturbance that hotels contend with?

Guests can feel as though noise is coming at them from all directions. Exterior sources include road, rail and air traffic, mechanical equipment, nearby bars and construction projects, as well as general city noise. Noises are also generated inside hotels-in neighboring rooms, corridors and other floors. Slamming doors, elevators, phone calls, TV, radio, alarm clocks, and children playing are just a few examples. While properties tend to focus on the most persistent problems, the reality is that they never know what two guests will end up sharing a wall on a given night. Also, hoteliers sometimes forget about the noises created within the rooms itself, such as cycling HVAC, plumbing, minibar compressors and, if the room is shared, another person. Online comments indicate that guests are frequently bothered by a whole host of sources.

What is the financial impact on hotels when noise problems are not dealt with adequately?

The cost is substantial. Hotels try to appease unhappy guests with discounts and freebies. They lose repeat customers, find it hard to fill certain rooms, and suffer negative reviews, which affects their reputation in the long term. And the problem is actually worse than most realize because, as industry surveys show, nearly 60 per cent of guests don’t complain to staff when disturbed by noise. About the same percentage actively seek positive reviews about sleep quality before booking. We worked with a property that investigated the impacts of noise over 18 months and found they had low satisfaction ratings, lost tens of thousands of dollars in identifiable costs, and experienced further unknown losses from reduced repeat business and negative reviews. I should add that if a property attempts to resolve noise problems using the wrong solutions, a lot of money can be invested with little to no return.

What are the main ways that hotels attempt to deal with noise problems?

While the industry is aware of this problem, it doesn’t really know how to fix it. Otherwise, complaints would have declined over the past decades. Some properties have given up, believing noise is simply a fact of life. For example, I know of hotels that have stopped booking guests into rooms with known noise issues. Others have tried quiet hours and business-only floors. They’ve offered items to promote sleep, such as earplugs, scented oils, and ‘nature sound’ machines. Many properties have thrown good money after bad by pursuing structural fixes-adding more isolation and absorption-and purchasing quieter equipment, which can cost thousands per room, but doesn’t address the root of the problem. Clearly, walls, windows and doors need to provide a suitable level of isolation, equipment should be designed to produce as little noise as possible, and ideally one should locate noise-producing areas away from guest rooms. But, to a large extent, most hotels already perform fairly well on these fronts. The problem’s enduring nature stems from the fact that nothing is done to address the fact that the majority of guest rooms exhibit very low background sound levels.

What are some solutions you would suggest to deal with noise?

During international testing, we found that the background sound level usually ranges from 25 to 35 decibels in guest rooms. In these ‘library-like’ or ‘pin-drop’ conditions, occupants are easily disrupted because even low-level noises create volume spikes in the room. The larger these spikes, the more likely the guest is to be disturbed or awakened. Though a necessary part of an effective acoustical plan, adding more barriers and absorptive materials and reducing noise sources can’t address this deficiency and may, in fact, make it worse by further lowering the background level. Raising the background level, on the other hand, covers these spikes or reduces their magnitude, creating a more consistent and, hence, comfortable environment. This is done using a sound masking technology, such as our MODIO Guestroom Acoustic Control. This type of commercial-grade device introduces a soft, comfortable airflow-like sound into the guest room. The sound is designed to cover the wide range of frequencies that are typically present in hotel noise. The source is discrete and the sound is uniformly dispersed throughout the room. The guest can also set the level according to their preference or need.

What are some examples of noise problems dealt with successfully in hotels?

Our sound masking technology has helped hotels deal with a wide range of noise issues-everything from a nightclub inside a New York hotel to barking seals and crying seagulls on a remote island property in Newfoundland. In our first hotel project, we implemented masking throughout eight floors of a hotel featuring a very popular nightclub. Many guests are drawn to the property for the club, but of course want to leave the din behind when retiring to their rooms. We were excited when guests began posting comments about how much they appreciate the sound masking. That was 15 years ago and I’m happy to say that this property is still garnering frequent and overwhelmingly positive online reviews about this amenity.

Of course, I’ve experienced the effect myself. Even before we began serving the hospitality industry, I was staying at a hotel in Texas and, on the first night, startled awake by a freight train. My first thought was “Earthquake!” The next night, I set up my demonstration kit and-despite trains passing regularly throughout the night-slept uninterrupted until morning. This is a great example of how masking doesn’t need to completely cover a noise in order to help a guest stay asleep; it just needs to keep volume spikes to a minimum. The measurements we’ve taken in various properties since that time quantitatively show that the technology is able to address all sorts of noises, including freeway traffic, neighboring guests, outside music, loud HVAC/PTAC, elevators, hallway noise, airplanes, plumbing, and more.

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