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California and the West

There'll Be No Lighting Up at Marriott

July 20, 2006|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

Marriott International announced Wednesday that it would ban smoking at its 2,300 hotels in the U.S. and Canada -- from the economy Fairfield Inns to the upscale Ritz-Carltons -- making it the first major hotel company to adopt a sweeping anti-smoking policy.

"No other chain or brand has done it to the breadth that we're doing," Marriott spokesman John Wolf said. "Other than obviously the health benefits, what it really came down to is our guests and what our guests wanted."

The number of smoking-designated rooms has progressively dwindled, Wolf said, but the biggest gripe among customers remained smoke-related.

The new policy, to be adopted in September, bans smoking in all rooms as well as in public spaces such as restaurants, lobbies, bathrooms and meeting areas at Marriott's 2,300 hotels and 400,000 rooms in the United States and Canada.

Those who sneak a puff in their rooms face fees of $200 to $300 for cleaning costs.

"Marriott is a very conservative company. They're not known for being ahead of the curve on social issues," said Robert Rauch, a professor in San Diego State University's hospitality and tourism management program. "They're taking a calculated risk and one that I didn't expect out of them."

Although Marriott may be the first major hotelier to go smoke-free, the rest of the lodging industry is heading in that direction, Rauch said. Most hotels have a shrinking number of smoking rooms available.

Rauch, who owns and operates a Homewood Suites by Hilton in San Diego, said he had set aside 10% of his 120 suites for smoking last year. Those rooms were not being booked and he has slowly converted six back to non-smoking status.

That mirrors the trend in smoking in the U.S., which has been steadily declining since the late 1990s, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2004, the last full year for which figures are available, only 44.5 million people, or 21% of the nation's adults, were smokers.

Westin Hotels, operated by Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which also owns W brands and Sheraton, became the first chain to go smoke-free last year.

That decision "has been overwhelmingly positive for our associates and our guests," said Sue Brand, Westin's senior vice president.

Shortly after Westin's announcement, others followed, including hotels at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.

"I definitely support the idea. I applaud it," said non-smoker Allyson Davis, 41, of Sherman Oaks, who travels frequently for business. "I detest smoking. For me, if I get a room that I can tell is a smoking room, I'll request to be moved. It completely grosses me out."

Marriott's new policy won kudos from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society. The cancer society urged others to follow suit with "socially responsible" decisions.

The hotel's announcement also comes after recent warnings by U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, who issued a report last month finding that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer in non-smoking adults and serious respiratory problems and death in infants and children.

Hilton spokeswoman Kendra Walker said the Beverly Hills-based company, with 2,700 hotels worldwide, had no immediate plans to change its policy. "We will still continue to offer a choice of whether to smoke or not."

That's a good thing for smoker John Park of Tarzana. The 35-year-old accountant said he no longer will patronize Marriott hotels.

"It just makes it very inconvenient," Park said. "Even at the Ritz-Carlton, it's a nice hotel and you have the upper-class people. They may not smoke cigarettes, but they do smoke cigars. I'm just kind of shocked."

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