Hotels in North America are increasingly going smoke-free, but hotels in Europe and Asia often seem as slow as late-night room service when it comes to kicking the tobacco habit.
That is beginning to change, thanks to tough national and local smoking laws overseas; hotels operators' desire to cut the costs of eliminating smells, stains and burns from their properties; and hoteliers' desires to please guests who demand smoke-free environments.
Even in France, where inhaling languorously in cafes and le hotel has long been a national pastime, 78% of French hotel guests recently told pollsters they prefer non-smoking rooms.
Finding European and Asian hotels that restrict, or even ban, smoking is easier than ever before for travelers willing to put in the time to research their options. Usually, that boils down to spending some time on the Internet, surfing the Web sites of tourist boards, hotel chains, online outlets like Hotels.com, Expedia and Freshstay.com, and checking out the hotels section of sites such as Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.
As always with the Web, there is plenty of information out there, but reading the fine print is essential. Details and nuances of smoking policies can differ widely, with one hotel banning smoking in public areas like meeting rooms and the lobby, but allowing guests to puff away in their rooms; to another's policy of setting aside some floors as nonsmoking, but permitting smoking on other floors.
In such cases, adjoining floors with shared ventilation systems are all de facto smoking floors.
The push to go non-smoking has been led by Marriott(MAR) which proclaimed 400,000 rooms in North America and the Caribbean region smoke-free in 2006, and by Starwood Hotels & Resorts'(HOT) Westin brand, which made 77 of its North American and Caribbean hotels smoke-free the same year; that policy has more recently been extended to Westin hotels in Ireland and Scotland.
The corporate Web sites of these companies are good places to start a search, particularly for travelers who belong to Marriott or Starwood loyalty programs and want to stay with familiar hoteliers abroad.
The British Isles are increasingly fertile ground for smoke-free hotels -- or at least hotels with firm restrictions on lighting up. In large part, this is due to new smoking-control laws in Ireland and the U.K. Scotland and Northern Ireland both enacted smoking-control laws for most enclosed public spaces in 2006, and England and Wales followed suit last year.
"The key thing is that the pendulum has swung in favor of non-smokers throughout the U.K., and, in fact, in public areas in hotels, (guests) no longer have to passive-smoke,'' according to Andrew Weir, a spokesman for VisitBritain, the private/public agency that promotes tourism in Britain.
"Hotels can still designate a number of their rooms for smokers,'' Weir says, adding that "non-smoking rooms are widely available, but we would advise that people check with the hotels, a full list of which is available on our Web site.''
Weir says that Malmaison Hotels "has been one of the most proactive chains, with an all-out ban.''
Britain also abounds with country-specific sites that support smoking restrictions and quit-smoking programs. These sites include information on hotel smoking policies in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Smoking policies are still relatively loose in Eastern Europe, but they are tightening in Western Europe. France, for example, passed legislation banning smoking in public indoor spaces last year, with violators facing fines of up to €350, or about $550. According to TripAdvisor.com, the French ban extends to hotel lobbies.
Spain, Italy, Belgium and other European countries have passed anti-smoking laws in large part due to concern about public health. Most European countries have government-funded health care systems, so illness caused by smoking and other factors costs taxpayers' money.
Asia is a tougher sell for non-smoking policies, though it, too, is changing, with growing restrictions on smoking spilling over into hotels. In especially smoky places -- notably Japan -- the norm until recently seemed to be: everyone smokes everywhere all the time.
Major travel sites reference hotels in both Asia and Europe, as do commercial sites like Hotelmagician.com, although their coverage in Asia can be skimpy. Hotelmagician, for example, lists smoke-free hotels in the tiny Pacific island nation of Fiji and in Thailand, but not the rest of Asia.
Thailand is home to a voluntary project called the Smoke-Free Hotel Program, launched in 2006 and partly supported by the nonprofit Green Leaf Program and the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Formed to encourage hotels to set aside smoke-free rooms, this modest beginning effort enlists 17 hotels and resorts -- among them the Dusit Thani Hotel in Bangkok and the Paradise Beach Resort Samui -- according to the Thai tourist agency's Web site.
In giant China -- whose 350 million smokers are perhaps one-third of the world's total -- smoking restrictions are growing tougher, by government edict.
Chinese authorities especially want to clear the air in Beijing, which hosts the Olympic Games in August. Beijing has notoriously dirty air, thanks to factory pollution, toxic exhaust from the accelerating number of cars and even sandstorms howling in from the Gobi Desert.
Under new rules set to take effect May 1, Beijing hotels must set aside at least 70% of their rooms as non-smoking, according to the official English-language China Daily.