|By Christopher Boyd, The Orlando
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 15, 2006 - Hotel rooms are among the few remaining redoubts for cigarette smokers whose habit increasingly is relegated to benches on the peripheries of parking lots.
In what could fast become a trend in the lodging industry, even the availability of those rooms is shrinking.
At Westin Hotels and Resorts and Disneyland in California, smoking is out -- and ever more hotels and resorts are restricting where guests can light up.
"People these days hate smoke," said Abe Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
The no-smoking movement has been growing across the country, with state and local governments adopting restrictions. Florida prohibits smoking in most indoor public spaces, including bars and restaurants.
Hotels are just the latest flash point in a cultural shift, Pizam said.
Westin, which operates the Swan Hotel at Walt Disney World and the Grand Bohemian Hotel in downtown Orlando, banned smoking in its 29,000 hotel rooms around the nation in January. Under the new policy, Westin prohibits smoking in all rooms, restaurants, bars and public areas at its 77 properties in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.
"We found that only about 4 percent of our guests smoked in their rooms," said Sue Brush, Westin's senior vice president. "Obviously, it was a risk, because 4 percent represents millions of dollars in revenue. But we concluded we could get more business as a result of making this change."
Westin, which has promoted healthy lifestyles as part of its advertising campaign, concluded that an outright prohibition on smoking would fit its image.
Westin isn't the only hotelier ending or considering an end to smoke. Disneyland in California imposed a ban at its hotels last month, and smoking has been restricted to ever smaller areas at Walt Disney World.
"On average, 95 percent of our rooms are now nonsmoking," Disney World spokeswoman Kim Prunty said. "There is a general downward trend in smoking that is continuing."
Prunty said Disney World and Disneyland cater to somewhat different clientele. Disney World attracts a substantial number of foreign travelers who are less accustomed to restrictions on smoking than domestic ones.
Other hotel companies are reducing smoking rooms.
Lisa Cole, spokeswoman for Hilton Hotels, said group travelers and overseas tourists continue to create a demand for limited smoking rooms.
"A lot of hotels have found that people don't want smoking rooms," Cole said. "For now, we're leaving it up to our individual properties to set smoking policies."
Hilton owns the Doubletree Hotel on International Drive and The Hilton at Walt Disney World Village, a hotel where 8 percent of the rooms allow smoking.
Westin says the ban on smoking required an initial investment of about $2.9 million.
"Bedspreads needed to be replaced, drapes needed cleaning, walls had to be scrubbed and carpets needed shampoo," Brush said. "The idea was to get the odor out and start fresh."
Pizam, of UCF's Rosen College, said the decision to ban smoking is, in the end, driven by the market and customer preference.
As popular as smoking bans are with some guests, smokers continue to represent a niche. If enough hotels ban smoking, Pizam said, a genre of hotels that cater to smoking might appear.
"I wouldn't be surprised that there is a whole class of hotels for smokers," Pizam said. "But the jury is still out on Westin. I expect other companies will wait and see. If Westin loses market share, the trend might not move so fast."
Christopher Boyd can be reached at 407-420-5723 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
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