by Evan H. Ypsilantis
Guestroom acoustics present a significant challenge to many hotel owners and operators. Noise regularly ranks at or near the top of the list of complaints, industrywide. It irritates guests during the day, prevents them from relaxing in the evening, and continues to affect their ability to sleep long after they have otherwise adjusted to their new surroundings.
The financial impact of this problem can be substantial. Dissatisfied guests are less likely to return to a property and more inclined to post a negative review online. As a result, the hotel’s reputation can suffer. In many cases, there are also direct costs associated with appeasing unhappy visitors, such as by offering discounts.
Traditional noise control methods should always be implemented; however, there are economic limits to what can be done, particularly in retrofit situations. In any case, noise often remains an irritant despite best efforts, because while absorptive materials and blocking strategies are key to reducing volume peaks as well as the distance over which noises travel, they also decrease overall background sound levels. In this pin drop environment, any remaining noises are even more noticeable and disruptive to sleep.
Guests often try to use the HVAC system to raise their room’s background sound level, because they instinctively know it will cover up at least some unwanted noises. However, these systems are not designed for this purpose. They cycle on/off and do not produce the correct sound spectrum. When used excessively, energy consumption and maintenance costs also increase.
The background sound level is best controlled using a sound masking system installed within each guest room. Though the sound this technology introduces is often compared to that of soft airflow, it is engineered to be both acoustically effective and comfortable, making it preferable to using the HVAC system, a white noise app, or clock-radio type product offering nature sounds. Following installation, a technician tunes the sound, adjusting third-octave frequency bands to ensure it reliably meets the required masking spectrum within each room.
Niklas Moeller, vice president of KR Moeller Associates Ltd., underlines the importance of using a commercial-grade masking system, stating, “It’s vital that the masking sound be properly generated, adjusted via effective volume and frequency controls, and produced over a high-quality loudspeaker. Introducing a poor-quality sound will irritate rather than help the guest.”
A dial allows guests to control their room’s ambience the same way they control its temperature and lighting. They can adjust the masking volume according to their personal preference or as needed to cover disturbances from adjoining rooms, corridors, elevators, mechanical systems, ice machines, traffic, and even loud music from bars located within or outside of the hotel. Though masking will not always completely cover an offending noise, it substantially reduces its disruptive impact.
Sound masking technology is relatively easy to retrofit; however, installation during construction or renovation reduces costs and, most importantly, does not disrupt hotel operation or occupancy. A sign added to the wall, the control faceplate, or the guest services guide can quickly instruct guests about the purpose and use of this amenity.
“Guest feedback to our technology is very positive,” says Moeller. “They like the feature, feel it works well, and perceive it as an amenity. It also shows a proactive approach to dealing with noise in that the hotel is addressing it before it becomes a problem,” he adds.
Evan H. Ypsilantis is a regional sales director with Archoustics Northeast, distributor of the LogiSon Acoustic Network.