I was intrigued by a couple of loosely-related articles in the New York Times. The first, Have a Food Allergy? It’s Time to Recheck in the Science Times, reports that food allergies are far less common than people think.
According to a definitive report compiled for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases by a 25-member panel of experts, a big part of the problem is misdiagnosis, from overreliance on two tests — a skin-prick test and a blood test for antibodies — that can produce misleading results…
According to the panel’s detailed and well-documented report, about one child in 20 and one adult in 25 have a food allergy, nowhere near popular estimates that up to 30 percent of Americans are afflicted.
Another article, Sneeze-Free Zone, in the Business Day section describes the hotel industry’s embrace of super-clean rooms marketed to those with allergies or sensitivities to certain cleaning products, dust mites, etc. These rooms can be sold at a premium to guests who need them –and others who think they need them or decide such rooms are inherently superior.
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Hyatt recently announced plans to create hypoallergenic rooms in all of its full-service hotels in North America. The rooms, which will soon total about 2,000 in 125 properties, cost $20 to $30 extra a night and are intended to eliminate up to 98 percent of allergens and irritants. A medical-grade purifier continuously circulates air, Hyatt said.
“This was a market really underserved,” said Tom Smith, vice president of rooms for Hyatt.
Allergies and sensitivities are very real and rates are probably rising. Still I have no doubt that a good portion of the market consists of overly fussy or misinformed people. Food manufacturers have been catering to the allergy market in a big way for about five years and the travel industry is just starting to catch up. Such differentiation on a dimension a growing number of people consider essential is a great way for food makers and hoteliers to boost prices and profits.
Even if the rooms are no better in reality for many of the guests, the placebo effect should make them worth the extra cost.