by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | February 18, 2011

A Feb. 15 article in The Seattle Times taking MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to task for having the gall to charge guests a $20-per-night fee for "guaranteeing" a nonsmoking room unleashed a firestorm of protests. "That's right. You have to pay extra if you want to stay away from the smoke," said Christopher Elliott, a Times columnist and contributing editor for National Geographic Traveler. "Instead of paying extra to smoke in your room, you're being asked to shell out more to be shielded from cancer-causing fumes."

It's an interesting argument. Personally, I wouldn't mind paying for that guarantee. I can't count the number of times I've requested a smoke-free room only to be given one that reeks of infused tobacco. But $20 per night seems a little extreme. After all, it's not as if a guest is going to ask to change to a smoking room in the middle of a three-night convention. And some anti-smoking activists agreed with the Times and thought MGM had gone too far. In a statement, Matthew L. Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, issued a stinging rebuke to the 5,034-room luxury hotel. "No one should have to pay extra to avoid exposure to a harmful substance that causes lung cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses. What will MGM charge for next? A room without asbestos? One with a sprinkler system or fire alarm? One without bed bugs?" The statement went on to say that "If MGM fails to rescind this fee, then customers should show their displeasure by taking their business elsewhere."

Well, as it turns out, they won't have to. When contacted, Gordon Absher, vice president of public Affairs for MGM Resorts International, told The Hotel Insider by e-mail that the property had since reversed its "short-lived policy" (which was implemented the first week of January and ditched this past Thursday, two days after the Times story appeared). Wrote Absher, "This was a case where what seemed a positive idea as a customer-service inventory-management practice could be perceived as something else entirely. We regret having implemented this policy before recognizing the inappropriate message it might have sent to some of our customers."

Absher continued: "Like aisle and window seats on an airplane, when a flight fills up, some passengers must sit in a middle seat. The same is true for a full hotel. Despite our best efforts, we are sometimes unable to provide guests with the floor, view or room style they prefer...we are unaware of any hotel that can guarantee guests a nonsmoking room...Some have accused our company of encouraging unhealthy behavior through this policy. That was not our intent. We regret if this policy sent the wrong message to anyone. MGM Resorts International encourages healthy living practices for its guests and employees. The company complies fully with the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act. We offer cessation assistance to employees who smoke."

For a hotel chain to admit its policy may have been a mistake is no small thing. To immediately reverse it is unprecedented. I say give MGM another chance. Only, wait for their website to be corrected. As of this posting, it was still showing the required fee.