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Marriott's 2,300 North America Branded Hotels
 Leap to Meet the Deadline to be Smoke-free
By Ameerah Cetawayo, The Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Oct. 12, 2006 - As Marriott's 2,300 North America hotels brands leap to meet the deadline to be smoke-free by next week, Bowling Green's own Marriott hotels, Fairfield Inn and Courtyard by Marriott, are rising to comply with the new policy.

Courtyard by Marriott, at 1010 Wilkinson Trace, complied with the switch a month early.

"As soon as the press release came out, we stopped taking reservations for smoking rooms," general manager Jeremy Bratcher said. That was in late summer.

Courtyard by Marriott stopped taking reservations from guests past Oct. 15 and honored all pre-existing smoking room reservations by notifying them that their rooms would be smoke-free.

"We had one group of people that had some smoking room requests, but we had no more than 10," he said.

The switch to smoke-free requires all Marriott brands -- including JW Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, Courtyard, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn, TownePlace Suites and Marriott ExecuStay brands -- to have smoking areas no closer than 25 feet from any guest room.

Smokers are relegated to the hotel's landscaped courtyard area, which features a gazebo, seating and ashtray terminals.

Courtyard's employees in Bowling Green were already barred from smoking inside the hotel, Bratcher said.

A disclaimer about the hotel's smoke-free status has been added to the hotel's Web site, Bratcher said, and signs throughout the hotel and in guest rooms communicate the message.

"We want to make sure that guests are informed," Bratcher said.

If patrons decide to defy the policy, they will face a $250 fee, which Marriott assigns to recoup costs of restoring a room.

In the three weeks that the hotel has been smoke-free, Bratcher has assessed the fee four times. Courtyard previously had only eight smoking rooms and 85 smoke-free rooms.

Bratcher said Charlotte, N.C.-based American Classic cleaned all the carpets, pillows, mattresses, sofas, ottomans and drapes, wiped down walls, cleaned out the in-wall air conditioner vents and anything else that could have been penetrated by a smoke smell.

Bratcher said that while Westin pioneered the concept of a hotel going "smoke-free" when parent company Starwood Hotels and Resorts mandated its Westin brands to switch last year, Marriott has also blazed a new trail in the smoke-free trend.

"Marriott is the first hotel chain to go smoke-free with all of their brands," Bratcher said.

Bratcher said he was concerned about the hotel going smoke-free at first, since Kentucky still has a large tobacco farming population, but the response so far has been positive.

Courtyard patron William Jones of Birmingham, Ala., travels frequently and liked the sound of the hotels being smoke-free when he found out about the new policy while checking in Wednesday night.

"I think it's great. But of course, being a non-smoker, I would think that," he said.

He's asked before for non-smoking rooms, only to find the lingering smell of stale tobacco.

"Sometimes with non-smoking rooms, people smoke in them anyway," Jones said.

Jones said Marriott's new policy negates that problem.

Bowling Green's Courtyard is managed by LinGate Hospitality in Owensboro, a company that manages about 20 hotels from New Mexico, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Marriott's other brand in Bowling Green is Fairfield Inn.

Fairfield Inn general manager Alyson Branstetter said once the announcement came in July that Marriott would be smoke-free, that facility took baby steps to be in compliance.

Out of its 102 rooms, Fairfield Inn has only seven smoking rooms.

This week, the hotel is using an "ozone machine" to get the smoke smell out of rooms and will extract the carpets, install new mattresses and clean curtains, she said. Fairfield Inn will also wash the walls, which may eventually have to be bleached and painted to get rid of the smoke's effects.

"The smoke saturates everything in the room, so everything has to be deeply cleaned," Branstetter said.

Fairfield Inn won't penalize patrons who smoke until next week, when it meets the deadline to comply with Marriott's policy.

Branstetter said she informs customers of the policy and is spreading literature and signs throughout the building to inform them.

"We have lost some guests over it, but not very many," Branstetter said.

Branstetter said the business community is probably exercising a wait-and-see attitude with Marriott before more businesses go smoke-free.

Numerous Bowling Green restaurants are smoke-free, a list of which is available on the Barren River District Health Department Web site at www.barrenriverhealth.org.

In the meantime, while citywide smoke-free mandates remain a hot topic in Kentucky, Bowling Green has yet to examine the issue.

Mayor Elaine Walker said she has received letters and e-mails asking for a citywide smoke-free mandate, but that until there is a "strong push" from residents, the consensus among commissioners is not to initiate a smoking ban.

"I think it really needs to come from the people," Walker said. "When we see the groundswell, it's up to elected officials to respond to it."

Elizabethtown recently backed off its smoking ban, and Louisville is still working out the kinks in its own.

Joyce Adkins, tobacco control coordinator for the health department, said new studies touting the negative effects of secondhand smoke are being released constantly.

She points to Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona's report on secondhand smoke, issued in June, which says there is no safe level of exposure.

"The surgeon general did recommend smoke-free businesses and restaurants as a matter of public health," Adkins said.

"The science is clear," Carmona wrote, "secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults."

Adkins is glad to see smoke-free issues brought to the forefront, and that people are starting to realize the public health implications.

"We're not trying to tell people not to smoke, we're just trying to keep secondhand smoke from non-smokers in public areas," Adkins said.

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To see more of the Bowling Green Daily News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.bgdailynews.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky.

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