Online trip advisory reviews have ushered in a harsh new business environment for hotels, motels and inns that live or die by referrals.

If a guest had a lousy night’s sleep due to exterior noise from traffic, railroads or activity at the swimming pool, do not be surprised if the manager is the last to know. Viral grousing has gone ballistic and its impact can be immediate and long-lasting for hospitality chains that lack a nimble damage control strategy.

The absence of a posted review does not necessarily indicate satisfaction either. A guest that is unhappy with a room due to excessive exterior noise may say nothing to management, but likely will not return. They may also complain to friends and business associates, where negative word-of-mouth travels fast. This also can take a bite out of revenue. Now who is having a sleepless night?

Despite harsh online rebukes, well managed hotels acknowledge that they are prisoners of a paradox: They must build near major thoroughfares, highways and rail services so that they are accessible and convenient; yet location is often the source of the noise problem.

As noise awareness grows, some proprietors mistakenly believe the only solution is replacing every window—an expensive upgrade with no guarantee of success.

But Howard Hospitality, a hotel developer and hospitality management company, discovered a simpler solution that was cost-effective, did not require removing the existing windows, and quickly restored its online reputation—even though the site that needed remediation is located near roaring roadways.

ACOUSTIC TEST WINDOWS

The guests of Residence Inn Sandestin at Grand Boulevard in Miramar Beach, Fla., often complained about road noise. The hotel fronts a busy street and highway. Despite excellent staff service, guest feedback included remarks such as, “I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep,” according to Tania Koehler, director of hotel operations for Howard Hospitality that manages the Marriott property. She calculated that about 74 percent of the negative comments the hotel received through online review sites, like TripAdvisor, also mentioned the noise as “extremely high.” 

For more than a year, management researched solutions. Multiple studies revealed that 90 percent of noise seeps through windows, not walls. And dual-pane windows may effectively deter heat and cold, but a much different type of acoustic engineering is needed to block loud, exterior sounds. 

Much to their relief, they also learned that they did not need to replace every window in their inn. In fact, the best solution for many sites is to add a second, inner soundproofing window. This method controls temperature as well as eliminates intrusive noise. And these special panels, which open and close (or not) just like the windows already present, need only be applied to areas where noise is most disruptive.

In 2015, Howard Hospitality contracted with Soundproof Windows Inc., a Reno, Nev.-based soundproof window manufacturer, to install 176 special inner windows along the front of the Residence Inn Sandestin at Grand Boulevard. The company won the bid not merely because their product was less expensive than competitors; Koehler said the quality of the windows, the testing process and specificity of the plan to resolve the noise nuisance were superior.

Koehler felt that other companies were vague about solutions. But the soundproofing company they contracted stayed at the hotel for two nights and tested the noise themselves. They explained the type of materials they used and how they sealed the windows, and even explained where the screws would be inserted. They were very clear about how and why their plan would work.

The window company, founded in 1998, did not just measure decibels and offer solutions. Howard Hospitality was convinced to sign on after engineers installed one test window in a two-room suite. The noise-levels dropped 95 percent. The change was night and day.

In 2014, Residence Inn Sandestin at Grand Boulevard was ranked 74th among 687 Residence Inn hotels nationwide. In 2015, after the installation, the ranking jumped to 14th, and the online noise complaints all but disappeared.

Koehler says her company will soon add the soundproof windows to 16 more rooms on a corner of the inn near a major highway.

Acoustic expertise is the key to successful remediation, industry reports claim. It is not enough to add thicker or more layers of glass. The product chosen by Howard Hospitality was engineered by professionals that have developed strategies for sound recording studios, one of the most noise sensitive environments on the planet.

Also, when comparing the efficiency of window products, look for a rating called Sound Transmission Class (STC.) The higher the number, the more noise is stopped. A typical rating for standard windows is 26 to 28. By adding the soundproof windows installed in Florida, the STC rating is now 52 to 55.

Industry insiders also advise buyers to be wary. Some manufacturers provide an STC rating only for the glass they use, not including the window frames. This can be deceptive because successful noise reduction is based on factors such as the seals, the air gap between the windows, and the acoustic design of the window frames.

HISTORIC REMEDY

Historic districts that preserve beautiful, but aging, buildings also create problems for ownership. Since the exterior design cannot be tampered with, swapping out old windows for new is rarely approved—even if guests complain regularly about noise. By installing an inner window, hospitality teams improve occupant experience and respect architectural history.

Mark Everton, area managing director for Commune Hotels and Resorts, faced a different challenge. The Waterfront Hotel at Jack London Square in Oakland, Calif., is not a designated historic site, but it was built in the 1960s next to a railroad crossing. Passenger and freight trains, north and south bound, regularly blow through with horns blaring and safety guard rails ringing their alarms.

The majority of the hotel’s online reviews at TripAdvisor and other sites were people being inconvenienced by the noise. And their internal guest satisfaction survey was equally negative in that area.

Another problem arose when in 2010 a new ownership group decided the site needed noise remediation. But replacing windows would do considerable damage to the stucco façade. It fell to Everton to find an economical remedy. 

Everton researched the possibility of soundproof windows but was not convinced it would work. He contacted Soundproof Windows Inc., and proposed a test involving three guest rooms, stacked on multiple floors in the front of the hotel. One room was not altered.  Test windows were installed in the other two rooms, one with a 5/8 inch thick inner window and the other with 1/4 inch window. Then Everton hired an independent acoustic firm to analyze the test results.

When compared to the room without an inner window, the room with the 5/8 inch glass inner window eliminated noise by 75 percent, exceeding the other test product.  The experiment won Everton over and also proved that noise was entering through the windows, not the walls.

Still, the order for 75 windows was challenging because the face of the building has a variety of window sizes and shapes: rectangular that open and porthole style. Sliding doors opening into patios are also used in some rooms. Fortunately, the soundproof windows he chose could be configured to match any existing style of window, as well as sliding doors. The installation took a week.

The hotel’s online scores and ranking have gone up. In an internal survey before the change, noise was their number one complaint; now it has receded to an occasional mention. TripAdvisor now ranks the Waterfront second out of 48 Oakland hotels, up from ninth.

This year the Waterfront Hotel’s owners approved installation of the soundproof windows in the rest of the hotel.