Sunday, April 05, 2009

Hotels and Their Discontents

Staying in hotels can truly be a mixed bag, and when one has any sort of chemical sensitivity or environmental illness, hotels can be potentially unhealthy to the extreme.

Take our most recent experience here in Dallas. Knowing we would be staying at this particular Hilton for the emergency preparedness conference that I'm attending, I called once a week for three weeks prior to our arrival to make sure that we had a room that was not cleaned with fragranced or strong chemicals prior to our arrival, and that the sheets and towels were laundered with only fragrance-free products. I was assured that these requests were not out of the ordinary in the least, and our arrival to our room assured us that our request had indeed been honored.

Coming back from dinner after a long day of travel, we entered our room only to be hit with a blast of fragrance so strong that my wife had to immediately use her nebulizer to ward off the effects of the unexpected assault. Calling the front desk with our urgent situation, the concierge agreed that our room had indeed been "refreshed" while we were at dinner, meaning that someone had entered our room and simply sprayed some hideous "air freshener" all over the room, sending a cloud of misty nastiness that landed on any of our belongings that were left out in the open. We disabused him of the notion that "refreshing" any guest room in such a way was at all advisable, and after much ado, we were summarily moved to another room and apologetically issued a handful of breakfast vouchers.

While Hilton purports to be "going green", we are dismayed at the ubiquitous use of styrofoam cups and the lackluster recycling practices we have witnessed. We thus sadly conclude that, yes, corporate self-branding with a "green" label is nothing but cynical marketing at its worst, and while Hilton is better than some, they have a very long way to go (and probably little interest in going there, in the end).

If any of you travelers out there run into hotels that are listed on the "Fresh Stay" website, please realize that Fresh Stay's only mission is to provide travelers with smoke-free hotels, and the "freshness" factor has nothing to do with chemicals or fragrances.

It can be a rough road for the traveling person with chemical sensitivity, even for those with garden-variety asthma or other common respiratory illnesses. We all do our best, and we educate those with whom we come into contact along the way, hoping to create some change in a world unnecessarily saturated with chemicals and fragrances. And when there are those times when we've been hit hard with the chemical du jour, living in that proverbial bubble can sometimes almost seem like a viable alternative.
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