SMOKE-FREE FOR A MARKETING ADVANTAGE?
Jon Boroshok (originally published in the Spring 2005 edition
of HSMAI Marketing Review).
For a PDF version, please click
Smoking or nonsmoking
has long been a hospitality third rail issue that many businesses
have tried not to touch, but current market demands and legislation
are making it nearly impossible to bury heads in the sand. Some
progressive hospitality businesses are seeing this as a free market
Can a no smoking
policy give a hospitality venue a basic competitive edge? If marketed
and communicated correctly, it can contribute to the bottom line
by bringing in new business and reducing costs. If done incorrectly,
it can drive away revenue. It's all a matter of knowing whom the
existing and desired customers are, finding out what they really
want, and delivering it to them. More than any other time in the
history of the hospitality industry, the customer is king.
Often done ahead
of legislative efforts, venues are now looking at smoke-free policies
as a niche marketing opportunity, and as a way of offering what
the customer wants. Tired of hearing the sounds of the ongoing battle
over secondhand smoke and health protection responsibilities, the
hospitality industry is beginning to look at nonsmoking from a bottom
line perspective, and finding ways to cash in. It's often a tough
balancing act, but it's a policy where the rewards can outweigh
geography, 70-80% of the North American population does not smoke.
While smokers, a shrinking minority, have been very vocal and visible
in defending the custom of allowing smoking, a growing segment of
the once-silent majority is starting to speak up and flex its economic
muscle by demanding smoke-free venues.
industry is left having to figure out what percentage of their business
comes from the smoking population vs. what percentage of potential
business could they gain from the nonsmoking population that has
stayed away because of the smoke. Does catering to 20-30% of the
population make more sense than catering to 70-80% of the population?
The long-term solution requires a more complex equation.
a marketing consultant, industry speaker, and author of six books
including "Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First,"
details the idea of niching a business to a particular demographic.
demographic is a very strong one, and businesses that cater to this
market can present themselves as caring, customer-focused, health-conscious,
and ethical," says Horowitz. "The marketing benefits of
that approach are vast."
COO of Apple Core Hotels heard the message loud and clear. Enough
people making reservations at his company's five properties in New
York City wanted nonsmoking rooms that it was time to make the decision.
"We had repeated calls asking for nonsmoking rooms, and making
sure it's truly nonsmoking," says Dandapani. The chain turned
their Comfort Inn Midtown into New York City's first smoke-free
hotel. It was a demand-driven decision - there was enough demand
by the late 1990s, well before New York City's ban on smoking in
restaurants and bars.
a bottom line boost too. Housekeeping can spend five to 10 minutes
less per room per day, resulting in lower labor costs. Carpets,
curtains, and other room comforts last longer, allowing the hotel
to save money and/or offer nicer amenities. Apple Core even charges
a premium rate compared to its comparable nearby property that does
permit smoking on segregated floors. The Comfort Inn Midtown enjoys
a 98% occupancy rate, compared to about 93% for the other property.
Apple Core is
not alone. While legislated smoking bans in workplaces have fueled
debates about government infringement on a business' privacy, the
need to protect workers, smokers' rights, and other political lightning
rods, there is also a growing segment of the hospitality industry
that is going smoke-free by choice, responding to the increasing
demand of the free-market.
is not turning away smokers, it's only the smoke we are eliminating,"
says Dandapani, "We are providing a safe, healthy, clean-air
oasis for our employees as well as our guests." The company
uses the nonsmoking policy as a selling tool, and prominently mentions
it on their Web site.
Hotels and motels
have responded to the demand by increasing the number of rooms or
nonsmoking floors. Even with segregated wings or floors, ventilation
systems may carry air from smoking rooms to nonsmoking rooms. Because
of this problem, some lodgings have made themselves completely smoke-free.
Adamant nonsmokers are quick to point out that ventilation is not
an adequate solution.
Often any indoor
public area is also off limits to tobacco, although bars, pools,
and outdoor eating areas are frequently smoker-friendly depending
on local laws. As hotels, resorts, restaurants, and even bars prohibit
smoking indoors, smokers are often relegated to pools, patios and
outdoor dining areas, making them unbearable for many nonsmokers,
especially those traveling with children.
vocal in exercising their choice to avoid smoke, some nonsmokers
- especially those coming from areas where they've become accustomed
to smoke-free protections and policies - are becoming very demanding
about where they spend their travel and leisure dollars. For reasons
ranging from medical necessity to just hating the smell, they want
hospitality venues where they won't be subjected to any smoke outdoors
as well as indoors.
have started to advertise that some of their rooms are smoking and
nonsmoking, many still operate in stealth mode when it comes to
dealing with this divisive and volatile issue. Some just don't know
how to market themselves effectively.
no-win situation for the hospitality industry," says Andy Devine,
a professor of hotel, restaurant, and hospitality management at
the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. "It's taking
a stand on an issue that they don't want to touch."
it's hard to welcome someone to a hotel room and then tell him/her
they can't smoke in it. This holds especially true with international
guests coming from cultures where smoking is acceptable. He also
says that it's harder to sell smoking rooms to nonsmokers.
What about selling
nonsmoking rooms to smokers? "Even smokers don't want a smoking
room. They don't want the stale smoke either," says Bonnie
best of Hotel Valencia in San Jose, California. "Most people
don't want to sleep in a smoking room. The first ones to complain
are the smokers."
of the Monterey Marriott in Monterey, California agrees. "We
are seeing more and more customers telling us they don't want to
stay in a smoking room. Even smokers do not want to stay in a smoking
room," he says.
Best says the
hotel is full every weekend, and boasts the best occupancy rate
in the area. While she's not sure that can be attributed to being
a smoke-free hotel, "it has not been a deterrent to business
that cleanliness scores have gone up overall, and that smell is
one of the biggest factors affecting hotel room satisfaction. "By
going 100% nonsmoking, we've got happier gusts all around,"
the hotel and asking, there's no way to tell that the Hotel Valencia
is smoke-free until check-in, as it isn't mentioned on their Web
site at all. That's not unusual. Some completely nonsmoking properties
are not upfront about the fact that smoking is not permitted. Imagine
being a smoker and first finding out at check-in that a hotel on
completely smoke-free. It's not a way to win a happy customer.
Harbor Resort and Marina in Charleston, South Carolina has been
a nonsmoking venue since 2003, an unusual move in a tobacco-friendly
state where smoking is still permitted in restaurants and bars.
The hotel's Web site does not make any mention of their smoke-free
south, nonsmoking can't be promoted," says Lindsay Stedman,
director of sales. "It's not a glamorous subject." Stedman
admits that she would never stay in a hotel room that allows smoking,
but says that The Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina doesn't want
to promote the fact that it has gone smoke-free.
The lack of
clear and forthright communications may lead to the loss of niche
marketing opportunities. What about the nonsmoker who is looking
for a smoke-free hotel? If a property has already made the difficult
decision to ban smoking altogether, shouldn't its Web site point
out that smoking isn't allowed? Isn't the properly leaving money
on the table?
not providing honest communications with their smoking and nonsmoking
Debbie Howarth, CHME and an Assistant Professor at Johnson &
Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island agrees that many properties
are not giving the consumer enough information for an intelligent
decision. "It's our responsibility to work for our guests.
We need to give them the information," she says.
Doesn't it make
more sense to market that fact to potential customers that might
be attracted to a smoke-free venue? The hospitality industry needs
to clearly define and understand the target audience. Keeping records
of requests for smoking and nonsmoking rooms is a start, but what
about looking at calls where reservations weren't booked? Are callers
asked why they did not book a room? Was it because their request
for a nonsmoking room could not be guaranteed instead of only "noted?"
Tracking and measuring such demand led to the Comfort Inn Midtown
all types of money promoting ourselves, but if we're not doing it
to the right people with the right message, it's a waste,"
Palisades Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia knows its customers,
and sets aside 10% of guest rooms for smokers because of a strong
influx of guests from Asian countries who want to smoke. Whenever
a property has a substantial amount of international business, it
might be wise to keep some rooms aside, since this can be very lucrative
business. If fully separated and segregated from smoke-free rooms
and nonsmoking guests, it's less likely to generate complaints from
the floors! Do not under, any circumstances, have smoking and non-smoking
rooms on the same floor," says Roy MacNaughton, president of
MacNaughton Partners (Florida, Washington state and British Columbia).
As a hospitality niche marketer, he has more than a quarter century
of international hotel, food service and hospitality industry marketing
and operations experience. "This really is a no-brainer, but
still you will find it in thousands of hotels. How do you tell smoke
to stay where it's supposed to?"
Let people know,
with carefully chosen words on the Web site, that even though there
are 'some' smoking rooms, they are all on certain floors, totally
separated and segregated from the rest of the non-smoking environs
of the hotel.
Hospitality businesses that tend to attract families are the most
likely to take advantage of nonsmoking policies. Holiday World &
Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana, which just finished their
first year as smoke-free theme parks. Smoking is limited to one
designated area per park, and the policy is clearly communicated
on their Web site. Holiday World also issued a press release announcing
the new policy, hoping to take advantage of media exposure by being
the first area theme park to enact such a policy.
of guests last year challenged us. They said, if you really were
a family park, you wouldn't allow smoking," says president
and general manager Will Koch. "We took that to heart. Families
are our specialty, and so we accepted the challenge."
year of the no-smoking policy was great," says Koch. "The
non-smokers loved it, and we had only minimal negative issues from
smokers. Attendance was up 14%. I don't know if I'd give the smoking
policy the credit, but it is clear that the policy didn't hurt attendance."
Most major theme
parks are on the leading edge of the nonsmoking trend. Disneyland,
Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Universal have policies prohibiting
smoking near line queues, eating areas, pools and children's areas.
Most post their policies on their Web sites, as well as having highly
visible signage on premises.
Others are noncommittal.
Hershey Park in Pennsylvania still permits smoking in the midway,
but not in eating areas or line queues. Enforcement of their smoking
restrictions is lax, with occasional smokers observed lighting up
at dining tables despite being in plain site of park employees.
as far as declaring a beach smoke-free! It's been done, successfully.
Some beaches in southern California including parts of Los Angeles,
San Clemente, Santa Monica, Huntington Beach, recently went smoke-free,
started by Solana Beach in November 2003.
manager Matt Rodriguez says the City Council banned smoking in response
to storm water pollution issues, hoping to keep debris out of storm
drains. "Discarded cigarette butts were a nuisance," says
Rodrizuez. "On City Beach Cleanup Days, 50-60% of the litter
was butts." He says the ban has been successful. "More
kids and families are using the beaches, and tourism has increased,"
he says. "Our beach is not an ash tray. This community is very
health conscious. There is public support."
free beaches are a great, positive, growing trend," says Walter
McLeod of the Clean Beaches Council, a Washington, DC not-for-profit
organization devoted to sustaining America's beaches. He pointed
out that Florida and the even the Carolinas are starting to zone
beaches for things like surfing, fishing, and smoke-free areas.
There are also town beaches throughout the country, including parts
of New Jersey and Massachusetts that also frown upon smoking.
The trend is
also seen in areas that don't have smoking bans. Fleming's Prime
Steakhouse & Wine Bar of Newport Beach, California bans smoking
in all of their restaurants nationwide. They see it as a competitive
consumers are continually rejecting restaurants that allow smoking.
This evidenced by the strong comparable growth in Fleming's and
other restaurants that do not allow smoking," says Fleming's
CEO Bill Allen. "Cigarette and cigar smoke with food is no
more appetizing than any other foul odor being present during your
meal. Consumers enjoy smoke free environments in all areas of their
lives and are demanding this in their dining as well."
could be missing out on a great promotional opportunity based on
false fears. Smoking bans in a growing group of municipalities and
states have not resulted in a loss of business. Many customers who
stayed away because of smoke are now coming in and spending money.
in areas that have passed nonsmoking laws have actually reported
an increase in revenues. An article in the October 2004 issue of
Contemporary Economic Policy (http://cep.oupjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/22/4/520)
shows that restaurants in smoke-free cities have on average a 16%
higher market value at resale than comparable restaurants located
in smoke-filled cities. Restaurants in communities with smoke-free
ordinances are more profitable, according to authors Benjamin C.
Alamar and Stanton A. Glantz. The nonsmoking laws are associated
with an increase in restaurant profitability.
to claims that smoke-free regulations cause decrease in hospitality-industry
sales, this study determined that neither sales nor employment is
hurt when smoke-free regulations are put in place," says Andrew
Hyland, Vanaja Puli, Michael Cummings, and Russ Sciandra in a June
2003 article in the Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration
the will of the people has been heard, and the majority of the population
that does not smoke is saying that they don't want to be exposed
to smoke anymore, nor should they be the ones who have to move if
the smoke is bothering them.
are taking the initiative and going beyond legal requirements to
extend nonsmoking policies to areas that would never have been smoke
free years go. Paul Knepprath, vice president of government relations
for the American Lung Association thinks it makes sense. "People
come from all over the world to do tourist things, not to smoke,"
he says. "Not being able to smoke hasn't hurt. Tourism is up."
Even the gaming
industry is responding to the nonsmoking trend. Todd Smith, a spokesperson
for Travelers Advantage, a member travel club and full service travel
agency in Nashville, Tennessee says that casinos have started to
respond to the nonsmoker. He points to separate, nonsmoking poker
rooms at the Golden Nugget and Orleans in Las Vegas, the Tropicana
and Trump's Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, and the Foxwoods casino
in Connecticut as examples of a growing trend. "In most cases,
you still have to walk through the smoke first," cautions Smith.
a Lincoln, Rhode Island greyhound track and gaming facility mentions
its smoke-free gaming areas in their radio ads. About 50% of its
gaming areas and all restaurants are smoke-free, even though exempted
by Rhode Island's newly enacted laws.
Park recognized long ago that many of its patrons might prefer smoke-free
gaming options," said Lincoln Park spokesman John Goodman.
"In the early 1990s Lincoln Park became the first gaming facility
in the region to offer separate, non-smoking areas. Other regional
gaming destinations have since followed our lead, and today, one
half of Lincoln Park is completely smoke free."
does mention the non-smoking gaming rooms clearly on their Web site,
and also mentions them in local radio spots, although Goodman says
this is more as a matter of fact than as a marketing niche. Employees
are allowed to opt-out of working in smoking areas, and customers
don't have to walk through smoke to reach nonsmoking areas.
The cruise line
industry is cautiously doing away with smoking too. Silversea Cruises,
Ltd., an "ultra-luxury" cruise line has taken a separate
but equal approach to the issue. Brad Ball, director of communications
for Silversea Cruises, Ltd, says that based on customer comment
cards, restaurants, casinos, showrooms and even some deck areas
are divided as smoking or nonsmoking. He says that unlike hotels
on land, when a ship cabin door is closed, smoke can't get in because
it's an airtight seal for fire regulation compliance and the venting
systems on a ship also work better. Silversea details its smoking
policy in cruise documents.
been at the forefront of smoke-free cruises when it launched the
Paradise as smoke-free ship. Passengers were forbidden to smoke
anywhere on board, and violators were subjected to fines and being
dropped off at the next port. The cruise line decided to stop this
service as of September 2004, leaving some vacationers who had booked
future smoke-free cruises scrambling for options.
Co-Director of Breath, the California smoke-free bars, workplace
and communities program says that she has received many calls and
letters from irate vacationers, voicing their displeasure with Carnival's
decision, and promising never to step foot on a Carnival ship.
Ball sees the
industry moving toward nonsmoking policies across the ship, but
doesn't see smooth sailing for the transition. Designated nonsmoking
cabins are difficult due to inventory controls. He says that 40%
of the luxury cruise line passengers, and much of the crew, are
international, and may come from cultures where smoking isn't frowned
upon the way it is in the U.S. "A smoke-free ship isn't far
off," says Ball.
For any hospitality
business, the key to successful implementation is a true marketing
focus rather than a sales-oriented approach. Knowing who the customer
is and what the customer wants, providing it, and making sure it
is communicated to the customer are all essential to marketing success.
has to start with the customer," says MacNaughton. "Take
a stand and literally guarantee that the non-smoking room will be
available when the guest arrives," says MacNaughton.
MacNaughton recommends using the overflow concept. "You need
to strike a positive relationship with hotels of the same ilk or
market segment as yours within a close walking or driving range,"
he advises. Have a relationship that allows you to positively "move"
an incoming guest to the other hotel (and vice versa at another
time) since you have no more non-smoking (or even smoking) rooms
available. This is necessary for hotels that still offer 'some'
In order to
provide the "guarantee," the property should first sit
down with revenue management and sales people to really tighten
up the room occupancy projections and number of rooms that will
be required to maintain the guarantee. If your guarantee of a smoke-free
room must be broken, fall back on the overflow partner, especially
if it is part of your own hotel group.
guests to "guarantee" the reservation by pre-charging
a credit card for the first night, covering the property against
a vacant room. Some guests will object to such a request, so MacNaughton
advises training and allowing front desk or reservations personnel
to be able to make an on-the-spot-decision when the guest calls.
For a frequent guest, or one of your loyalty club members, it goes
without saying that you guarantee his non-smoking (or smoking) room.
Too many businesses miss out on Internet opportunities. "Not
a lot of properties know the power of their Web sites," says
Devine. We don't do a wonderful job of internal marketing either.
businesses often just build a Web site expecting people to find
it on their own with no plan to make that happen. Richard Zwicky,
CEO of Metamend, a leading search engine marketing and optimization
firm in Victoria, British Columbia says this is a formula for failure.
part of attracting customers to your property is through search
engine optimization," says Zwicky. Search engines drive more
traffic to a Web site than any other resource, but attracting their
attention isn't just a matter of placing content on the web site.
A good example is the term "nonsmoking" or "non-smoking"
rooms on hotel Web sites. "It's the common term hotel people
seem to use," he says. "But it's not the best one to use."
He says that
the vast majority of consumers use the term "smoke free"
while "nonsmoking" was barely used, when searching on
the Web. Once again, know who the customers are, and speaking their
language is paramount.
Don't confuse customers with numbers. MacNaughton says it is important
to not say something like "1,240 of the 1,400 rooms are non-smoking."
Put that proportion in a percentage, for example "87% of all
our rooms are smoke-free." Use the words "smoke-free,"
A veteran of
public relations and marketing communications, Jon Boroshok is the
president and founder of TechMarcom, Inc. (www.TechMarcom.com), a
Westford, MA-based independent agency specializing in value-based
marketing communications, and its Marcom Outsource division (www.MarcomOutsource.com),
providing project-based public relations services. Boroshok holds
a B.S. in communications from Emerson College and an M.B.A. in marketing
from Northeastern University. He is an adjunct instructor of marketing
communications courses at Emerson College in Boston and Bentley College
in Waltham, MA.
P.O. Box 994 - Westford, MA 01886 - 978-502-1055 - www.techmarcom.com
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