Alcohol-free hotels: A potential niche market?

A few weeks ago I did a symposium with some Iraqi colleagues in Marrakech, during which I stayed at the Ryad Mogador Menara hotel, which does not serve alcohol. The locals told me that when it opened, the smart set predicted swift bankruptcy. But the hotel has done a brisk business since, including during the height of tourist season.

I wonder if a chain of hotels without alcohol could make it as a niche market in the U.S. Religiously conservative travelers might like it, just as they do in Marrakech. Families with small kids are another potential source of customers as are I suspect women travelling alone who would like to know that there will not be drunken males in the restaurant or the lobby or anywhere else. People in recovery from alcoholism might also be drawn in. And of course such hotels could also get business from people like me, who wouldn’t book a hotel on this basis but at the same time don’t care enough about alcohol unavailability to let it stop them from staying at the hotel for other reasons (in my case because it was across the street from where our symposium was held).

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

11 thoughts on “Alcohol-free hotels: A potential niche market?”

  1. I believe that Days Inn was started by a Southern Baptist and they did not serve any alcohol until the original founder sold out or died. I think they might have also had employee prayer circles as well.

  2. There are plenty of hotel brands that don't have bars, and are therefore de facto alcohol-free. Hilton's Hampton Inn brand comes to mind, as does Clarion and Days Inn.

  3. Hans: With the spread of in room mini-fridges pre-stocked with booze, being alcohol free is more than getting rid of a bar.

    Greg: Good point, had not thought of that.

  4. How successful would they be if their rates were higher than those of "wet" hotels? I'm guessing booze – and porn – are very high margin sales, and to some extent subsidize the rest of the enterprise.

  5. Greg: although obviously the data are flawed, the common understanding is apparently that bible-thumpers (possibly as opposed to devout believers) are serious consumers of hotel porn. So the avaialbility of hotels that were porn-free as well as alcohol-free would put a lot of moralizers in a cleft stick.

    But, as Jeff J points out, they'd have to figure out somewhere else to get their margin.

  6. Aside from Spring Break, I don't think I've ever encountered more than one or two incidents of public drunkenness at hotels… and I stay in one on a weekly basis. So I doubt there's much of a problem to solve. It might be an interesting branding exercise, though.

  7. I suspect that hotels get a significant fraction of their revenue from hosting conventions; how many convention planners would choose a booze-free hotel over one that had alcohol available? I personally don’t drink, but if I had responsibility for organizing a con, I would assume that a significant fraction of the attendees would appreciate a bar at their hotel, and certainly I’d rather have them staggering from the hotel bar to the elevator at 2:00 a.m. than trying to stagger across the street.

  8. I'd stay there. I used to travel to Las Vegas quite a bit for conferences, etc., and was overjoyed when I found a nice hotel without gambling. I never stayed anywhere else after that even though it required some work to get where I needed to go during the day.

  9. I believe Howard Johnson hotels do not serve alcohol. At least that is true in may of their locations. And, that is certainly a big hotel chain.

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