As of September, all U.S. and Canadian Marriott International properties--including the more than 2,300 facilities in the Marriott, JW Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, Courtyard, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn, TownePlace Suites, and Marriott ExecuStay brands--will be smoke-free.

Noting that 90 percent of Marriott rooms are already nonsmoking, Mike Beardsley, senior vice president of sales, North America, Marriott Corp., cites an increasing demand for nonsmoking hotels; the experience of bars, restaurants, and other facilities that have already gone smoke-free due to local laws; and a report on the danger of second-hand smoke issued by the Surgeon General in June as the reasoning behind the move.

As to why it is limited to the U.S. and Canadian properties, Beardsley says, “To move this quickly, it was easier to do it in the U.S. and Canada” where there already is a cultural acceptance of the many smoking bans already in place in public spaces. “We do have nonsmoking rooms in all our hotels across the world, but we’re going to look at each country individually” before implementing a smoking ban in hotels in countries where smoking is more of a cultural norm, he says.

Noting that it “probably will have an effect on non-U.S. groups coming to U.S. properties,” Beardsley adds, “We will have some kind of designated smoking areas, such as outdoor lounges with chairs and tables around the meeting space, just not inside the building. We are making sure that we can accommodate guests who want to smoke—we won’t make them go to the curb. Each hotel will have to work on that in the next month before we go smoke-free in September.” He said the on-property designated outdoor smoking areas should help to alleviate safety concerns planners may have about attendees having to wander too far from the hotel to smoke. Guests also may be able to smoke on their guest-room balconies at some properties, but that is a decision each hotel’s general manager will have to make. If a guest smokes in a nonsmoking area anyway, Beardsley says the current policy is that the individual, not the group, would be held responsible for the cleanup charges.

Groups already booked after September who have large smoking contingencies and are worried about potential attrition if their smokers rebel and stay outside the block should contact their hotel. “We would work with the meeting planner to determine what the impact would be if the accommodations we would need to make for them are not to their satisfaction,” says Beardsley. “It may be that the group would have to move, but that’s not where we want to go. It’s really about talking through the issue and seeing what we can do to accommodate them. We’d need to take it on a case-by-case basis,” similar to how the chain handled groups booked at hotels affected by Hurricane Katrina. “We’ve asked the hotels to contact their booked groups in the future to see if they have any problem with [the new policy]. If there are any issues, we’ll deal with it. We’ll also be notifying groups of our nonsmoking policy as part of the sales process for future bookings,” he says.

As more states move to ban smoking in public places, Marriott is just following the trend, Beardsley says. “It’s a bolder move for [Marriott] to go this way with all our brands, but it’s a sign of the times.”

Earlier this year, Westin banned smoking from its U.S., Canadian, and Caribbean properties. Click here for more.