Hobby and Bush Intercontinental Airport management believes their new “Smart Restrooms” are cleaner, smell better and key to both airports' futures.
In the blur of people rolling through Houston airports, there are stops flush with fresh technology near toilets at Bush Intercontinental and Hobby.
“The people are asking for (technology),” Jesus Saenz, Houston Airport Systems Chief Operating Officer. “They want it and we have to move in that direction.”
Passengers consistently rank quality bathrooms as a top priority in surveys collected by the airport system, Saenz said. He considers his team's Smart Restroom program that started as a pilot last February key to growth.
Airport ratings and rankings based on customer experience help airports land new airlines, bigger planes and bigger bucks. Worldwide, airports spent $9 billion on information technology to ease travel.
The Houston Airport System's collection of wall-mounted tablets linked to sensors outside every public restroom in Hobby and nine of ten restrooms in Bush Intercontinental gather feedback on smells, spills, supplies and more. The information is tracked in real time by airport staff. It is analyzed then used to send crews to busy or problem spots quickly. The idea is make sure customers always see clean restrooms and leave with great impressions of each airport's facilities.
“We can almost predict how many people are going to go use the restroom,” Saenz said.
The system's predictive analytics allows staff to know exactly where to expect a rush, how long on average passengers visit, when to change flush valves even which size fan clears the air best.
“A lot of people use (these restrooms) and a lot of babies come here and it has to be clean,” passenger Stephanie Maradiaga said.
Customers told KHOU 11 News they liked the Smart Restrooms. However, they hardly called it an attraction.
“If I have to come to Houston, I have to come to Houston whether they have a dirty (restroom) or not,” passenger John Curran said.
Still, customer complaints are down, Saenz said. By next year, he expects crews duplicating less work to deliver budget savings. Though management's focus remains clear.
“The better the (customer) experience, the better we are in competition against other airports,” Saenz said.
Currently, La Guardia is the only other airport using Smart Restrooms throughout its facilities, according to a spokesperson for the manufacturer Infax. However, airports in Halifax, Philadelphia and Nashville are running pilot programs, the company added.
Management at Los Angeles International and Atlanta Hartsfield are currently negotiating to bring the program to their airports.