September 3, 2010 - Unlike most other non-smoking states, Wisconsin in July passed a statewide smoking ban that bans smoking in every hotel guestroom. In most states that have banned smoking in public places, such as Kansas, the legislation allows hoteliers to exempt a certain percentage of guestrooms.
But in Wisconsin, "there can be zero rooms" that allow smoking in sleeping rooms, Trisha Pugal, CEO of Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association told me in an interview.
And the new law is causing "a major culture change" for hoteliers and guests alike.
Wisconsin is the second state in the USA after Michigan to pass anti-smoking legislation that doesn't exempt hotels, she said. The hotel association didn't exactly embrace the legislation. In fact, the group lobbied to let hotels retain a certain percentage of smoking rooms, but the proposal was shot down.
Today, hoteliers say their biggest challenge with the smoking ban is convincing guests that it truly is the law - and that there are real consequences if they smoke in their room, according to Pugal. "People tend not to believe," she says. "We even created a signage guide for lodging properties to help educate the guest. In the hospitality industry, you don't want to appear inhospitable."
Wisconsin's roughly 2,000 hotels post signs declaring their building a non-smoking facility. They're also requiring guests to initial a statement promising to comply or face paying a fee. Hotels are charging penalty fees anywhere from $100 to $300, she said. "Unfortunately, there are people choosing to smoke anyway, even with all the signage and initialing things saying they know there will be a penalty," Pugal told me.
Hotel staffers don't always know that a person smoked until a housekeeper gets into the room to clean it, sometimes creating "a logistical nightmare" for the hotel if someone is waiting for the same room that then must be cleaned thoroughly, she said.
Smoking guests who flout the law, however, aren't getting away with it. Hotels are charging the fee, in hopes that it will deter people from smoking the next time.
Whether the smoking ban is costing hotels business isn't yet clear. Pugal just yesterday sent member hotels a survey to see how the ban may be affecting their business.
Reference: Wisconsin law bans smoking in all hotel guestrooms by Barbara De Lollis, USA TODAY, 9/2/2010.
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