As the Food and Drug Administration kicks off a new $115 million anti-smoking campaign aimed at telling young people why they shouldn't pick up the habit, a new online booking tool has rolled out to help smokers find hotel rooms where it's OK to light up.
Lake Forest, Calif.-based Smoketels.com claims to have a database of more than 250,000 smoking-allowed hotel rooms in the United States and around the globe and plans to serve what founder and smoker Shawn Bradley describes as the "underserved demographic" of travelers seeking smoker-friendly hotels.
"On existing online travel reservation sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia you have to click on the hotel and then look to see if there might be any smoking rooms," said Bradley. "That gets very confusing and frustrating. Our inventory only includes hotels where smoking rooms are available."
That inventory doesn't include the increasing number of independent and chain hotels, such as Marriott and Starwood, which have made all their U.S. properties 100 percent smoke-free. "But many Days Inn and Quality Inn properties—and many hotels in the South, where there are still many heavy smokers—will generally have smoking rooms available," said Bradley.
In a 2012 survey of 52,000 properties conducted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 63 percent reported being 100 percent smoke-free. "But keep in mind," said Bradley, "many hotel chains that ban smoking in their U.S. properties have smoking rooms available at their properties in other countries."
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 43.8 million adult smokers in the U.S. A lot of those smokers are business and leisure travelers who will smoke even if they have to rent a nonsmoking room, said Bradley. "They'll burn candles, use cologne, blow the smoke out the windows, all in an effort to mask the smoke," he said. "Let's stop treating them as second-class citizens and help them find rooms where they can smoke."
While some smokers may indeed seek out a booking site focused on one type of lodging, Smoketels.com may have a hard time going up against online travel market players that are already there, said Marcello Gasdia, a consumer analyst with PhoCusWright.
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"The only way to generate revenue is to steal market share," said Gasdia in an email. "That's a tough thing to do when you're going against entrenched players like Priceline, Expedia or Kayak. Going for a niche audience is one approach, but it's still difficult to pull any consumer from these household name brands."
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—By NBC contributor Harriet Baskas. Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas. Follow Road Warrior at @CNBCtravel.