'Stay' as a hotel invitation

Stephanie Rosenbloom / New York Times News Service /

Published Sep 27, 2013 at 05:00AM

Shortly after arriving at the new Viceroy Riviera Maya in Mexico, dogs are blessed by a shaman as he circles them with burning incense. Afterward, the dog receives a garland of shells and flowers and can retire to a miniature palapa.

At the Essex Resort and Spa near Burlington, Vt., new canine theme weekends allow guests to spend the days hiking woodsy trails with their pets and learning how to bake. (Dog biscuits, that is.)

One could go on, particularly in New York: the new pet pedometers at the Muse Hotel, the imminent pooch minibars at the Benjamin, the Lacoste polos for dogs coming soon to the Gansevoort hotels.

As pets have evolved into family members — a trend market researchers refer to as “humanization” — it is hardly surprising that people want to take them along when they travel. And more and more hotels are happy to oblige. A higher percentage of properties than ever permit pets (61 percent, up from 52 percent in 2010), according to a 2012 survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. And the ones that do are ratcheting up their amenities to befit pet owners who long ago traded Kibbles ’n Bits for gluten-free organic meals served with carob-peanut butter brownies, and au naturel paws for those finished off with nail polish.

“We have definitely seen growth in pet-friendly hotels over the past several years, and currently more than 20,500 hotels on Travelocity’s site are listed as pet friendly,” said Courtney Scott, a senior editor at Travelocity.com.

Dogs wanted

Dogs are the most common pet hotel guests, and hotels have courted their owners for years with gimmicks like doggy reiki and surfing. But increasingly such bells and whistles are just one part of more elaborate hotel pet programs meant to show travelers that dogs are not merely allowed — they are wanted.

A decade ago hotels either “accepted” dogs or did not, said Len Kain, the editor of Dogfriendly.com, a travel site for dog owners. “You could not really say they welcomed them, that is, encouraged you to bring them.”

Today, however, hotels are doing just that with packages that are both whimsical (“pet-icures” and pet psychics) and practical (pooper scoopers and pet sitting).

At the Gansevoort hotels in New York, guests will soon be able to spare their pets from teeming sidewalks with a minimalist, Gansevoort-branded harness known as a puppy purse ($70), enabling the tiniest of dogs to be worn across one’s body like a living Judith Leiber bag. In North Carolina, the Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte — which is allowing dogs on a trial basis through December ($150 cleaning fee plus $50 a dog a night) — is providing Ritz-Carlton-branded doggy beds. And at the Muse in Manhattan, the chef is developing a room service menu for dogs. (Note to allergy sufferers: most hotels have designated pet rooms as well as deep-cleaning processes for rooms where pets have slept.)

Guests staying with pets at the Muse, part of the Kimpton chain, receive an amenity bag, the size of which depends on whether you own a teacup Pomeranian or a Doberman pinscher, said Ericka Nelson, general manager. The bag, which guests get to keep, includes a water bowl; organic treats; a squeak toy; a pooper scooper; a leash; a special Do Not Disturb sign to let the staff know your pet is in the room; and The New York Paws, a guide to area parks, shops, pet sitters and animal hospitals.

Kimpton, which does not charge for pets, also has daily complimentary wine hours (known as “yappy hour” at one of the brand’s hotels) at which dogs and owners mingle over cocktails as if they were a New Yorker cartoon.

Perhaps this is the moment to note that the trend toward humanization means pet owners “are highly receptive to products similar to the ones they use for themselves,” according to a 2013 market research report by Packaged Facts. Is it any wonder then that some owners also wish their pets could talk? Bridget Pilloud, a pet psychic, said she regularly enabled owners to hear what their pets had to say last year at Hotel Monaco Portland, a Kimpton property in Oregon.

“It’s gimmicky, but people have fun with it,” said Mike DeFrino, chief operating officer of Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group, who estimates that more than 100,000 pets stay in Kimpton’s 60 hotels each year, and that 99 percent of them are dogs. “It all goes over well in Portland.”

Other animals

But it’s not just dog owners who are being catered to. Even petless guests are invited to be pet owners for a night. At any Kimpton hotel guests can have a goldfish in a bowl delivered to their room, a service known as Guppy Love. “The more fun people have in our hotels,” DeFrino said, “the more likely they are to talk about us, the more likely they are to come back.”

Take Kyle Fabitz, a lawyer from Austin, Texas, who travels weekly with Winnie, his 7-year-old silver Labrador.

“I ultimately keep coming back here because I feel that my dog feels most comfortable being here,” said Fabitz, while staying at INK48, a Manhattan Kimpton hotel. “You can throw a ball up and down the hall if you want. She can bark.”

Lesley Carey, vice president of the Orlando Hotel in Los Angeles, is seeing more business travelers like Fabitz bringing dogs along. “It used to be just on a leisure trip,” she said. (Last month the Orlando introduced a program that shuttles dogs between the hotel and Chateau Marmutt day care for $299, including the day care.)

When the 120-room Essex Resort and Spa in Vermont opened its doors to pets in 2003, it saw about one pet a week. Now there are 10 to 15 most nights. “It’s almost 10 percent of our business,” said Jim Glanville, vice president and general manager.

Ever since the recession, the hotel has focused on events for “passion-based groups,” as Glanville put it, because “no matter how the economy is, you’re going to follow your passion.” And “there’s not a more passionate group around” than pet owners, he said.

Most pet-friendly hotels are lower- and midpriced brands (Best Western, Red Roof Inn), according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

But some luxury properties see being pet-friendly as part of their DNA.

“We always profess to be a lifestyle brand,” said Elon Kenchington, chief operating officer of Gansevoort Hotel Group. “If your pet is part of your lifestyle, why shouldn’t your pet be traveling with you?”

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