It's a dog's life after all. Pampering services like massages, pedicures, personal chefs and birthday cakes used to be solely for humans, but these amenities are now being offered to well-pampered pets on the road.
In the past few years, more and more hotels are stretching to accommodate — and actively court — guests with pets. Unless you were living in France, where small dogs are treated with the same reverence as children and the elderly, it used to be difficult to find hotels that would bend over backward to include furry friends.
An untapped market
Why the change of heart? Travelers with pets are a huge market, and one that is untapped at the luxury level. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association of America, there are 62 million dog owners in the U.S., and 29 million of those hit the road with their dogs in tow. The latest American Express Leisure Travel survey, released in October 2003, found that 13 percent of its respondents described an ideal vacation as one that is "pet-friendly."
"Just a few years ago, traveling with your pet was not an option," says Diane Brancella, vice president of sales at Ramsey, N.J.-based Liberty Travel. "It's become a huge trend because the market demanded it." Brancella says two main reasons are driving the trend: Customers want to bring pets along to enhance a vacation, and most owners feel guilty leaving pets behind in a kennel. Early this year, Liberty Travel released a report looking at the most pet-friendly destinations in the world, and Brancella says the response was huge.
Last summer when Starwood Hotels & Resorts introduced its LTD (Love That Dog) program in its Westin, Sheraton and W hotels, the chain commissioned a study to look at the habits of 400 dog owners. The study found that 76 percent said they would be more loyal to a hotel chain that accepted dogs, even when they weren't traveling with their pet. Eighty-two percent said they did not believe that most upscale hotels allowed dogs, and 48 percent said that if they did, it was reluctantly. A full 16 percent admitted to smuggling their dogs into hotels that did not allow pets.
Pet massages and 'pawdicures'
Most pet-friendly hotels will offer amenities like food and water bowls as well as little extras like personalized ID tags and a bandana. But some hotels, like Wyndham Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa in Telluride, Colo., Nine Zero in Boston and Mexico's Las Ventanas, are taking it one step further by offering pet massages and pet room-service menus with items like free range roasted chicken, angus beef and steamed rice, as well as side-by-side owner and pet pedicures.
The Golden Door Spa at Wyndham's Telluride resort just added a "doggie spa" within the 42,000-square-foot complex, where pets can sign up for grooming, teeth cleaning and massage, plus "pawdicures." Helen Brown, the spa director, says the dog spa was opened in response to customer need. "Telluride is pet-friendly to the extreme," she says. "This is a town which has special puppy parking in front of stores."
Brown adds that the resort has always been pet-friendly, and unlike other hotels, does not impose weight restrictions on pets. In addition, pets can be left alone in rooms.
"People are traveling more domestically, and airlines have made it easier to fly with pets," says Brown. "People want their pets to enjoy a vacation as well."
And indeed the pets are. Well-groomed pets of well-groomed owners are treated like kings at such posh resorts as the Grove Isle Resort & Club in Florida, where there's a weekly "Doggie Happy Hour," or at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills, where dogs are taken for walks by white-glove-wearing staffers. But these hotels aren't the only ones that have gone to the dogs, or cats or parakeets, or....
To read about other top pet-friendly hotels, click here for the slide show.