Marriott Hotels Ban Smoking In Rooms

Marriott International Inc. said the decision was about the bottom line.
Marriott International Inc. said the decision was about the bottom line. (Pr Newswire)
By Michael S. Rosenwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 20, 2006

Marriott International Inc., the nation's largest hotel chain, said yesterday that it will ban smoking in its nearly 400,000 hotel rooms in the United States and Canada, casting the decision as less about public health and more about taking care of the bottom line.

Two decades ago, about half the company's rooms were set aside for smokers, but demand has steadily dropped, with only 5 percent of customers now requesting smoking rooms. At the same time, complaints about cigarette odor have increased, and company officials have struggled to address the issue.

Marriott, which will enforce its ban by charging violators $200 to $300, follows that of the Westin Hotels & Resorts chain, which late last year announced it was making all 77 of its properties smoke-free. Since then, business has grown stronger, said Sue Brush, a senior vice president with Westin, which is owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc.

David Webb of Huntsville, Tex., was smoking yesterday outside of a Ritz-Carlton in the District, where he was staying. He said he requests nonsmoking rooms because he "cannot stand the smell of old smoke in rooms." He smokes outside, and said a smoke-free environment was an incentive to stay at a Marriott property.

Airlines banned smoking on their flights only after the federal government passed a law requiring such bans in the 1990s. Restaurants and bars are increasingly becoming smoke-free zones, now that more than 2,200 municipalities have smoking restrictions. Marriott executives said there was no government involvement in their decision to end smoking throughout their more than 2,300 hotels.

The Bethesda firm, which had been reserving 10 percent of its rooms for smokers, said the decision was most closely tied to guest satisfaction.

"Complaints about smoking is one of the biggest complaints we have," said Steve Lampa, the company's senior vice president of rooms operations and quality assurance. "Clearly there will be some guests who smoke that won't agree with this decision and may decide to move elsewhere. We don't think there will be a negative financial impact."

Marriott executives considered Westin's positive experience with its ban when making their decision, the company said. Executives also said they were influenced by the reported dangers of secondhand smoke, including a recent surgeon general's report on the subject.

Several industry observers think there is a good chance other major hotel chains will follow Marriott's move. About 21 percent of the U.S. population smokes.

"This tips the hotel industry so now virtually every hotel will have to go nonsmoking," said Edward Watkins, editor of Lodging Hospitality, a leading trade publication. "Marriott is the leader of the pack. Once they do it, every company will have to do that. They just have so many hotels. It's a matter of competitive pressure."

Public health and anti-smoking advocates cheered the move as a key victory in their attempts to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.

Frances Stillman, co-director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins University, said Marriott's decision was particularly important for public health advocates' efforts to shake off arguments by the tobacco industry that smoking bans are bad for business.

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