Smokers are often reviled and pitied by those with lesser vices, but do not they who smoke also need a place to lay their weary heads? Yes, they do, insists Shawn Bradley, who runs an odd little website called Smoketels.com, where those who puff can book a hotel that welcomes them.
“We don’t offer nonsmoking rooms, so if you’re a nonsmoker, you’re not for us,” says Bradley, whose background is in Web development. The company says it has smoking rooms available for booking at 100,000 hotels around the world, from Beijing (lots of choices there) to New York (slim pickings).
Many hotels in the United States, and some abroad, ban smoking entirely. Notable among them is Marriott International, which since October 2006 has banned smoking in its 2,300 hotels (with about 400,000 rooms) in the United States and Canada. Marriott hotels include brands like Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Courtyard and Residence Inn. Marriott’s far-flung international properties, though, are not bound by the no-smoking rule, an accommodation that Marriott describes as a nod toward “local laws, cultures and preferences” in the rest of the world.
Even throughout the United States, lots of hotels — especially those in the lower midlevel and economy niches — set aside rooms for smokers.
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“Many chains still offer them,” Bradley said. But hotels tend to keep quiet about allowing smoking, so booking a smoking room can be frustrating and time-consuming — hence the Smoketels site, which opened for business in November.
“For those who are smokers, and I am myself, they’re spending hours trying to find hotels,” he said. For the technology to make its reservations, Smoketels belongs to the Expedia Affiliate Network, a booking-engine system managed by Expedia.com, the travel company.
“It’s an arrangement where they basically push all smoking room inventory to our site,” Bradley said.
Let me pause right here to put in a word of disapprobation about smoking and its deadly toll. According to the World Health Organization, smoking kills nearly 6 million people a year, about 10 percent of them through exposure to secondhand smoke. Still, the organization adds, “Consumption of tobacco products is increasing globally, though it is decreasing in high-income and upper-middle-income countries,” while nearly 80 percent of the world’s 1 billion smokers “live in low- and middle-income countries.”
And now that we’ve added an element of class and income to the equation, let’s consider another breed entirely of smoker — those who puff on premium cigars, who tend to be in higher-income brackets, many with fancy tastes in travel, including high-end hotels with cigar-shop humidors in the lobbies, where a prized Arturo Fuente Opus X might cost as much as dinner.
A fair number of business travelers smoke cigars, which are typically savored one by one, and certainly not consumed in packs of 20, like cigarettes. Furthermore, they tend to smoke in social settings, like a fancy cigar lounge, and not necessarily in the hotel room itself.
“The cigars I smoke, Maduros, are enormous, basically the size of a bus muffler. They’re as black as an attorney’s heart, and they emit voluminous clouds of smoke, which works against a desire to smoke one in the confines of a hotel room,” said Jack Riepe, author of a book, “Politically Correct Cigar Smoking for Social Terrorists,” published in 1999 and now out of print. Riepe is revising the book, which is to be republished with a modified title that omits the “unfortunate word ‘terrorist,’” said Riepe, who travels by motorcycle when he can avoid flying.
“I do smoke cigars when I travel, so I often look to find a hotel that allows smoking. You can generally find them in the cheaper properties, which is where I’m inclined to stay when I travel on a motorcycle anyway,” he said. Still, on the other side of the travel scale, even higher-end hotels that do set aside smoking rooms seldom discriminate against cigars, as opposed to cigarettes. “And of course, many Europeans and Asians still smoke like chimneys, and many are fond of cigars,” he pointed out.
I called Gordon Mott, executive editor of Cigar Aficionado, a monthly magazine for discriminating cigar smokers who tend to have other expensive tastes, and I asked how cigar lovers know where they can smoke in peace on the road.
“More and more of the high-end hotel properties are looking for ways to accommodate their smokers, particularly their cigar smokers, where it’s possible on a policy level — that is, not prohibited by law,” Mott said. And like cigarette smokers who might consult a site like Smoketels.com, some cigar lovers also tend to research smoking accommodations (including nearby cigar lounges) when making a reservation. And yes, Cigar Aficionado will have an app for that.
“We are working on exactly that kind of information for travelers, so that when you’re traveling, rather than worry about whether your hotel allows it, you’ll be able to pull up the app,” Mott said.