In hotels, only place to smoke to be bedroom

Adjusting to demand, some limit smoking rooms before the law goes into effect.
Monday, January 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:30 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The smoking ordinance that takes effect Tuesday will require Columbia hotels and motels to prohibit smoking everywhere but bedrooms. But some owners are reducing the number of smoking rooms anyway.

At least two Columbia hotels, the independent Regency Downtown and the Best Value Inn, finished renovations last month that cut the number of smoking rooms available to customers.

“Part of it had to do with the nonsmoking ban, but the other thing was just the number of people that prefer nonsmoking anymore,” said Mike Ebert, who owns both hotels. “I also think Boone County’s goal and objective is to become a green community, and I believe in it.”

About 25 percent of Missourians smoke, according to U.S. Census data from 2000. But Ebert said only about 15 percent of customers at the Regency Downtown request smoking rooms. At the Best Value Inn, requests are only slightly more prevalent — around 20 percent.

“I think a lot of smokers request nonsmoking rooms just because most people prefer nonsmoking environments,” Ebert said.

Ebert rid 16 rooms of the smell of smoke by using an ozone machine, which reduces odors, mold, mildew and airborne bacteria through oxidation. Comforters, drapes and linens were dry cleaned or replaced at a cost of about $500 per room, he said.

The trend among hotels and motels has been to limit the availability of smoking rooms. Some companies have eliminated smoking rooms altogether. Marriott, the nation’s largest hotel chain, banned smoking in all of its nearly 400,000 locations in September, citing concerns about customer health.

Derek Augustine, general manager of the Marriott Courtyard in Columbia, said customers responded well to the new policy.

“They loved it,” Augustine said. “We have not had one person say this is a bad thing. To tell the truth, the frequent guests we had that we knew were smokers, we haven’t seen them back. But there were so few that were smokers that — if anything ­— our business has increased because of the policy.”

Customers at the Marriott are asked to initial a statement and sticker outlining the new nonsmoking policy and the $250 cleaning fee that comes with breaking it. Augustine said only a handful of customers have violated the policy so far.

Marriott’s move comes less than a year after Westin, a smaller national chain, announced it would go completely smoke-free. The Columbia Stoney Creek Inn, one of 10 properties in the Central Northern hotel chain, has been smoke-free since it opened in 2003.

“We’ve never had any complaints about it,” said Troy Chadwick, Stoney Creek general manager. “But there are plenty of smoking areas outside, so that helps.”

Ebert expects more hotels in the industry will make similar moves. “I do think nonsmoking is the way it’s going to be eventually,” Ebert said. “But that may be a decade.”

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