While the hotel industry faces desperate economic times and new competition from online vacation rentals, one businessman in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has found a novel way to increase the occupancy of his hotel by 50% -- allow smoking, and not just tobacco.
Hotelier Bob Sullivan runs the Howard Johnson’s and has remodeled 20 of his hotel’s 155 rooms to accommodate smokers, including lawful medical marijuana patients. He plans to eventually convert between 60 and 80 of his rooms to allow smoking.
Smoke-free hotels have become the norm in America. Many tokers have been made aware of a customary $250 “cleaning fee” most hotels will charge if they discover you’ve been smoking in the room and wondered, why not just charge the $250 up front and let us smoke? The truth is while some hotels made the change to being completely smoke-free on their own, many others have been forced to by the passage of indoor clean air laws that forbid smoking at workplaces.
Michigan is one of the states that passed such a law in 2010. To get around it, Sullivan remodeled rooms to feature a sliding-glass door, which leads to a patio surrounded by tall privacy fencing. Smoking or toking is allowed on the patio.
While marijuana is still illegal for recreational purposes in Michigan, the city of Grand Rapids decriminalized it in 2008, so possession is only a ticket if you get caught by the city cops. Also, the state’s Smoke-Free Air law specifically refers to tobacco, so there is an open question whether smoking cannabis indoors is actually illegal.
Crain’s Detroit Business reports that occupancy at the Howard Johnson "has seen an increase every weekend," according to Sullivan. "Every weekend, every one of those rooms is sold."
Wyndham Hotel Group, the parent company of Howard Johnson’s, when asked about the marijuana-welcoming attitude of Bob Sullivan’s franchise, issued a stock disclaimer statement. "As a franchise organization, each hotel within our brand's portfolio is independently owned and operated and required to comply with all local, state and federal laws," was all that public relations manager Rob Myers had to say to Crain’s.
While Sullivan himself doesn’t smoke tobacco or cannabis, he certainly doesn’t seem to think there’s any problem with it. He recalled his time as a baseball scout for the Detroit Tigers in the 1960s and 1970s, saying, “A lot of them used marijuana and it didn't affect their playing."