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Houston Hoteliers Say Where There's No Smoke, There's No Change

Hotel Association Poll Indicates the Six Month Old
City Smoking Ordinance Not Hurting Business

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HOUSTON, TEXAS - On Sept. 1, 2007, a sweeping new Houston ordinance went into effect, changing a lot of old habits for people who were used to smoking in restaurants, bars and hotels and worrying a lot of those businesses about how it would hurt the bottom line.
         
Six months later, according to a poll taken by the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston, the ordinance has had almost no affect on profits or customer relations in the area's lodging industry.
         
The ordinance, which was passed by City Council in October, 2006, says smoking is prohibited in enclosed public places, with a few specified exceptions. 

"There was concern on how to effectively put the new regulations in place without damaging business relationships," said Joan Johnson, president of the HLAGH. "It is good to know that the worst of those fears proved to be baseless. What we've learned from this poll is that those who prefer to smoke are resolved to the restrictions and those who don't want to be around it have been vocally supportive."  Many hotels, such as Westin and Marriott, have 100% of their room inventory as non-smoking.
         
The no smoking ordinance affects hotels in many areas, including hotel bars, restaurants, lobby areas, hallways, offices, guest rooms and, with some exceptions, all meeting rooms. It also prohibits where people may smoke outside the hotel.
         
In the poll, hoteliers were asked four questions: When the property went non-smoking (some hotels were non-smoking prior to the ordinance because of corporate policy), how the move affected business either positive or negative, and how the policy is enforced.   
        
In all the responses from both major luxury hotels to smaller properties, no one reported that the ordinance had hurt business or profits. Answers ranged from "Negligible," to "Insignificant." Hoteliers who reported incidents where some "die-hard smokers" chose not to stay because of the ordinance, said those losses were replaced by people praising the policy. In fact, a number of hoteliers reported positive feedback and new business from guests who like the no-smoking rules. Interestingly, some of hotels which reported incidents of protest also had corporate policies more strict than Houston's ordinance. 
         
"For the most part, the response has been positive," wrote one general manager. "There have obviously been some unhappy smokers, but they will stay with us and smoke in the designated areas."
 
A few hotels reported increases in business which because of comments made could be tied to the ordinance.
         
Most hotels inform guests of their smoking policies through printed materials in both rooms and public areas. Guests are informed that violations of smoking in non-smoking rooms are subject to a significant, non-refundable cleaning fee. Approximately a third of the hotels responding to the poll reported some guests did choose to ignore the rules.

"We occasionally do have guests who still smoke in their rooms," responded one general manager. "We apply a $250 cleaning fee. This happens about once per week." 
         
Several hotels reported charging such fees, the amounts ranging from $200 to $275.
         
For violations in public areas and meeting rooms, hoteliers said the smokers are approached by members of the hotel staff and directed to areas where smoking is allowed. No hotel reported incidents where guests still refused to comply.
         
This poll is one of several the Hotel and Lodging Association conducts each year concerning activities and opinions among its members. 
         
With nearly 300 members, the organization is made up of general managers and owners of hotels and motels, suppliers, service companies and consultants who sell and service the hospitality industry. This industry, which provides more than 89,000 jobs and $327 million in payroll, is one of the top contributors to the Houston economy.
         
Serving as the voice representing the hotel and motel industry in the Houston area, the HLAGH is active in governmental affairs, education, tourism and charitable efforts.  The organization provides scholarships to the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management at the University of Houston and on-the-job training to high school students through the High Schools for Hospitality Program.

The organization also works closely with the Greater Houston Conventions and Visitors Bureau to promote Houston as a convention and tourism location. Travel spending in the greater Houston area last year generated more than $147 million in local taxes. Hotels and motels also infused more than $500 million in construction and renovation spending into the local economy.

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Contact:

 Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Houston
President: Joan Johnson
P.O. Box 25399
Houston, TX 77265-5399
Telephone: 713-437-5230
Email: director@houstonhotels.org
Website: www.houstonhotels.org

 

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Also See: Westin's Smoke-free Policy Expected to Spread, Over Time, to All Brands in the Lodging Industry / December 2005
Woman Seeks $600,000 in Compensatory Damages from Towneplace Suites by Marriott in Chesapeake, Virginia Over Smoking Spat / January 2006
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