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Hotels are Going Completely Smoke Free

Hotels are Going Completely Smoke Free

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BASKING RIDGE, N.J. (AP) -- Smokers are finding there is no room at the inn anymore.

From New York to California, small and mid-size hotels have gone smoke-free, cleaning, deodorizing and redecorating rooms once reserved for smokers and designating them nonsmoking.

One major reason is that fewer guests are requesting smoking rooms. But hotel managers point to other benefits: lower room maintenance costs and a marketing tool at a time when the business has been hurt by a sluggish economy.

"In all of our publications, we promote a smoke-free environment, and we've gotten calls because of it. Families with kids, it's attractive to them. It reinforces cleanliness and safety," said Chris Canavos, manager of the 98-room Howard Johnson's in Williamsburg, Va., which went smoke-free during a renovation three years ago.

In New York City, which banned smoking in restaurants and bars over the summer, the 79-room Comfort Inn Midtown in the theater district just marked its second smoke-free year. For the first seven months of this year, the Comfort Inn's occupancy rate has been a strong 96 percent.

Nonsmoker Leon Der Bogosian, a jewelry wholesaler from Los Angeles who frequently travels on business, stays at the Comfort Inn Midtown an average of eight times a year. Of the smoke-free policy, he said: "I'm bound to them because of that."

"Clean air, that's the main thing for me," he said. When he recently stayed in Detroit, his nonsmoking room was on a floor with smoking rooms, and "from the elevator to the room, you could smell cigarettes."

Vijay Dandapani, chief operating officer of Apple Core Hotels, which runs the Comfort Inn Midtown, said that on average, maids have to spend an extra five minutes cleaning a smoking room, including emptying the ashtrays and scrubbing the smoke residue that settles on everything.

Moreover, hotel managers point out, the drapes, the carpets, the bedding and other furnishings need to be replaced more frequently in smoking rooms, because smokers burn holes in the furniture and cause other damage.

The switchover to no smoking also gives hotels more flexibility: Normally, when hotels are close to full, nonsmoking guests are offered smoking rooms. To many nonsmokers, that stinks. They are repelled by the hard-to-remove cigarette smell.

Many bars, restaurants and workplaces across the country have gone smoke-free over the past several years. John Banzhaf, an anti-smoking activist and professor of public interest law at George Washington University, calls hotels one of the last holdouts.

"I definitely think it will be a continuing and accelerating trend," he said. "I think hotels will try to distinguish themselves and try to provide some added value for their guests, and they'll be successful at it."

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study of major U.S. urban markets, rooms for smokers account for 16 percent of all hotel rooms, a drop of 4 percentage points over the past five years.

In addition to New Jersey, New York and Virginia, smoke-free hotels can also be found in Delaware, California and Oklahoma, said Jeff Higley, editor in chief of the industry journal Hotel & Motel Management. There are an estimated 4.4 million hotel rooms in the United States.

Just over a month ago in Basking Ridge, about a half-hour drive west of New York City, the 171-room North Maple Inn dropped the last of its rooms for smokers. The North Maple, which caters to Fortune 500 travelers and wedding parties, now charges a $250 cleaning fee to guests who light up in their rooms -- the amount the hotel says it costs to get rid of the smell.

Smokers at the North Maple are free to use five outdoor areas, including a courtyard where they can order drinks.

Some North Maple guests attending a recent corporate conference huddled outside a side entrance, chatting over a morning cigarette.

New Yorker Jonathan Smith said the policy was most bothersome

just before bedtime and first thing in the morning. After putting up with the policy for three days, the 27-year smoker said: "I feel like I've been here my whole life."

Audrey Silk of the New York group Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment does not welcome the trend either: "A hotel is where you go to relax. If they're telling me I can't smoke in my room, that's not a vacation."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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