|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
"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.