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Sizing Up ‘Smoke Free’: Is it Time for Your Hotel to Ban the Butts?

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NATIONAL REPORT—Patty Griffin, a nonsmoker, recently found herself staying in a smoking room in a hotel in Texas. It wasn’t her first choice, but it was what was available. The smoking odor didn’t hit her hard, however, until she got home and unpacked.

“I took out a cotton nightgown, and I couldn’t believe how much it smelled like smoke,” says Griffin, president and founder of the 300-member Green Hotels Assn., Houston, Texas.

Certainly, hotels and motels are becoming more accommodating to nonsmokers such as Griffin who don’t want to smell stale smoke or be exposed to its health risks. In fact, the upscale Westin Hotels & Resorts re-emerged as a nonsmoking chain in the United States in February. (The properties do have outside smoking areas, and non-Westin businesses operating within the hotels aren’t covered by the policy.)

The 120-property chain was responding to market research that found 92 percent of its guests don’t smoke at all during a stay, and 86 percent believe creating nonsmoking environments is important to building healthier environments. Responding to customer demand is one of the top reasons hotels choose to go smoke free.

“They say this is a way to differentiate themselves,” says Ray Burger, president and founder of Pineapple Hospitality Inc., which operates www.freshstay.com, an online listing of 200 smoke-free hotels. Many of his testimonials focus on increasing top-line revenue in anticipation of, or as a result of going smoke free.

“We went smoke free a year ago,” says Denis Herron, director of sales & marketing for the 245-room Hilton Palm Beach (Fla.) Airport. “I believe it is fast becoming the standard instead of the exception. Our occupancy jumped nine percentage points in 2005, from 78 percent to 87 percent, partly because of our decision to go smoke free.”

In Herron’s case, restaurants and bars in the area had already gone smoke free, which made the decision easier. For hotels considering banning smoking, Griffin and Burger say to consider the following:

• Where is the property located and what is the occupancy rate? West Coast cities, for instance, have more nonsmokers that those in the south. If smoking rooms are perpetually not rented, then the market might be ready for you to go nonsmoking. If the smoking rooms are in demand, it might take more consideration.

• Be prepared to spend $400 to $500 per room to wash down wall vinyl, shampoo carpets and furniture, dry clean draperies and bedding and deodorize box springs.

• Determine your policy for smoking violations. According to Griffin, some hotels go so far as to put butts and ashes into plastic bags to prove a guest has violated the policy. Some charge upwards of $300 to $400 per violation. Make sure the housekeeping staff knows the steps for verifying a violation and has time to follow them properly.

• Update marketing and informational materials such as Web sites and brochures to reflect the new policy. Information can be presented in a positive way, such as, “Smoking is permitted outside in the designated areas.”

• If smoking is permitted outside of guestrooms, such as in a bar or an outside area, make sure to have adequate ventilation to prevent smoke from reaching official nonsmoking areas, such as rooms and hallways.

• Establish a protocol to inform guests of the policy when they are signing in and have them sign or initial a document that they understand and will comply.

Hoteliers might also consider investing in purification technology. Tampa, Fla.-based Zontec Ozone, for instance, sells the Zontec Ozone Generator, which it says will not only purify the air and clean soft goods and hard surfaces, but also eliminate allergens and provide a smoke-free, odor-free room.

“It’s very important that hotel owners and operators understand that the drastic measures undertaken by some of the larger hotel brands for creating a smoke-free, odor-free environment are not necessary to accomplish these goals,” says Dean Gruber, president of Zontec Ozone. “Announcing that hotels will be gutted in order to provide a clean and odor-free room is a very creative and highly visible marketing campaign targeting environmentally conscious travelers, nothing more.”

Tonya Vinas can be contacted at vinastonya@sbcglobal.net.

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