Hotel acoustics roundtable highlights importance of a good night’s sleep for guests

Specialists in the field of acoustics need to be involved in projects at an early stage to prevent expensive and time-consuming retrofits was just one of the ideas to come out of a roundtable meeting hosted by Middle East Architect.

 The JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai was the venue for the event which focused on how hotels can best ensure “A Good Night’s Sleep” for guests. It was sponsored by Saint-Gobain Gyproc and the panel included the company’s senior technical development manager Jason Hird and hotel sector manager Marloes Meer.

 Also taking part were Issam Ezzedine, principal design architect at National Engineering Bureau, Alan McCready, managing director at ISG, Rabih Feghali, director of business development at Roya and Godwin Austen Johnson associate partner and architect Peter Moy.

 The discussion also called for a tightening up of regulations for the hospitality sector in terms of acoustics as well as greater awareness of the issue among the design and build profession.

 According to international surveys from companies like JD Power, one of the highest ranking customer complaints is noise.

The panel heard a customer’s decision making process when choosing to stay in a new hotel considers many things but never whether they will get a good night’s sleep.  It’s simply expected.  If they then become one of the thousands of people that are disturbed by noise in the hotel, whether they complain or not, they are unlikely to return.

 By considering the building as a whole, using performance based specification rather than the more traditional product led specifications, then we can design hotels to meet the demands of the consumer and in line with international standards and give them what they expect – A Good Night’s Sleep.

 At the start of the session the panel was informed by Hird that “poor soundproofing in rooms is one of the top three complaints made by hotel guests” when asked about their accommodation experiences.

 So, the opening subject in the discussion was whether hotels placed enough emphasis on ensuring peace and quiet for visitors and how this can be best achieved during the design and build process.

 The panel agreed that standards need to be improved across the Middle East as tourism becomes an even more important part of the economy of the region and large scale events,  such as the Dubai 2020 Expo and Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022, on the horizon

 Hird said: “The early involvement of specialist acousticians will ensure that a project meets requirements and when it is handed over to an operator there will be no need for work to be done to bring it up to standard. In the case of hotels this would mean closing rooms and so causing huge inconvenience to guests and loss of revenue.”

 Greater attention to detail in the initial phases of a project can lead to huge savings further down the line, the panel was told.

 “The design period does not cost a lot of money,” said Moy. “But every piece of the concept you get right is a problem which will not need to be faced on-site. This period is the crucial one and that is a lesson that has been learnt in Europe and the USA about a million times.”

 The participants agreed that acoustic design should form part of any masterplan.

 Ezzedine said: “Only five years ago this was not even on the agenda for architects, there was a complete lack of understanding, a lack of experience and a lack of highlighting it as important.”

 The roundtable agreed that the various regional, national and municipal authorities across the GCC needed to impose their own regulations on the subject and ensure a detailed study of acoustics was taken on board as part of any design package.

 Hird asked the assembled experts if they were aware that regulations on the subject did exist in Dubai – and had been put together by the emirate’s municipality. But this came as a surprise to those present.

 “To build a hotel you have to adhere to acoustic regulations,” Hird said. “This has been advisory for the previous four years – but mandatory since January 1. But still nobody knows any such rules exist.”

 More should be done by the various tourism ministries to highlight this legislation and call for an overall improvement in standards, the panel agreed.

 Meer said: “Tourism officials should play a big role, so if an operator comes in at a later stage they will not have to cope with the problem of standards of quality not having been met. They should not be faced with having to deal with the issue of working with a building as it is when completed – but not to the right standards.”

 Ezzedine said the best way forward would be for clients, architects, contractors and operators to all work together on the issue.

 Moy said: “You need to have the acoustics guy in from the very beginning – attention to little details is vitally important.”

 The panel discussed the level of acoustics in the Four Seasons hotel brand where even the clicking made by a closing door is carefully monitored and rendered as noiseless as possible –hearing that this example is probably “just one of 150” small details which were taken care of to ensure maximum user-experience for guests.

 The panel also agreed that if savings needed to be made as a project is built, that they should not come from short-changing in the field of acoustics.

 The best methods of achieving the best soundproofing for rooms was the next item to be debated.

 Hird said his company had been involved in lecturing students and talking to architects about modern methods of construction and although there was a mindset which looked towards traditional methods progress was being made.

 McCready said he favoured dry wall products over traditional blockwork. He said: “They give a greater level of control over the programme – we are talking carpentry, rather than masonry here.”

 The panel heard that dry wall is far lighter and needed to be much less dense than blockwork to achieve the same level of soundproofing.

 Hird said: “For acoustics drywall systems are generally far more efficient and a 65% reduction can be obtained in the dead-load of a building. If professional dry wall companies are involved at an early stage, the savings on a project will be massive.”

 The discussion then moved on to how using the most efficient construction techniques on hotels can add to the UAE’s appeal as a tourist destination and the advantages of dry wall in the field of sustainability..

 McCready said: “We have the best airports and the best airline here and the message we need to be sending out is that we have the best hotel quality.”

 Ezzedine agreed and proposed an idea to ensure standards in acoustics are bought to the best possible level: “The Ministry of Tourism needs to have a link to the website of every hotel to look at any complaints received from guests. Then they should degrade the hotel’s category accordingly if it is obvious standards are not as high as they should be.”

 Such a move would maximise the usage of the region’s hotels – especially as a huge number are set to be built over the coming years.

 Moy said: “Looking at Las Vegas, which also has a huge number of hotels, it serves as a conference hub for the USA. Dubai sort of acts like that already. But with so many hotel rooms it needs to find other ways of using this resource and filling up the accommodation between major events.”

 McCready agreed: “To ensure the high occupancy of the hotel stock in the region buildings need to better designed and again dry wall can play a part as it allows much easier access for maintenance as panels can be removed rather than it be necessary to bore holes in blockwork. These sort of services can be performed in the interval between one guest checking out and another checking in so the room is kept online.”

 Feghali said hotel design needs to encompass flexibility so that different demands can be catered for.

 “It’s a dynamic market,” he said. “For the Expo, for example, there may be a greater demand for meeting space and that should be accommodated.”

 Hird said this was another area where dry wall can offer a solution: “You can change the configuration of the whole floor if you need to,” he said. “With blockwork, that would be a nightmare.”

 McCready said as the discussion drew to a close: “There needs to a new awareness of the acoustic regulations which are in place and the whole industry needs to buy into the need for better building standards – and that needs to be something which is taken on board from the very beginning.

 “The most efficient building solutions need to be utilised as well.”

 “And we need to highlight that to the municipalities and the Ministry of Tourism,” said Ezzedine. “Especially in Dubai where so many new hotels are being built.”