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Pet Friendly Travel in the News

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MORE HOTELS COMING OVER FOR ROVER

Pets get special menus, even lessons in surfing

By Jennifer Davies
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
July 9, 2006

Rather than a chocolate mint on your hotel pillow, how about a dog biscuit instead?

Hotels are increasingly catering to their four-legged guests as a way to lure pets owners to their properties and encourage customer loyalty.

In the past, only luxury hotels or inexpensive motels would allow Fido to come along for the trip. But as more owners travel with their pets, hotels are looking to accommodate the demand.

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimates that 63 percent of U.S. households have a pet, and a survey by the American Animal Hospital Association found that 67 percent of owners travel with their furry companions.

With those numbers, it is not surprising that the number of hotels that accept pets has increased 28 percent since 2003, according to the American Automobile Association.

Now, it is not just a matter of letting a dog or cat stay at a hotel, it's about providing them with top-notch amenities. From special room service menus to dog-walking and pet-sitting services, to surfing lessons for dogs, hotels are going out of their way for pets.

Tracey Thompson, creator of Petfriendlytravel.com, said the reason is simple: money. Many pet owners are aging baby boomers with plenty to spend. With an empty nest, baby boomers have made their pets, particularly their dogs, the focal point of their lives, Thompson said.

“It's really about the fact that people with pets have a lot of disposable income,” she said. “Pets are the new kids.”

That certainly is the case for Bonnie Popick, who stays at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort when she and her husband visit San Diego with their German shepherd, Raider. Popick, 50, who comes to San Diego frequently for visits with her two older sons, said having a place where Raider feels comfortable makes the trip a lot easier.

“They cater to the dog,” she said. “The entire staff is dog-friendly.”

The Loews chain, which started its pet program in 2000, has an elaborate approach to making pets feel at home, starting with a personal letter from the general manager's pet explaining all the high points of the resort.

It also includes a special menu that offers such pet-friendly entrees as “Bow Wow Tenderloin of Beef” for $19 and “Kitty's Salmon Supreme” for $17. All the meals are served with Evian water and in the proper pet bowls.

Loews at Coronado even offers dog-surfing lessons called “Su'ruff Camp.”

In Denver, Loews has an “Outward Hound” activity, in which a personal trainer takes the dog and owner on a two-hour guided tour with fresh-baked treats and limo drop-off and pickup.

The Loews Vanderbilt Hotel Nashville has a package deal in which a dog can record a song with the aid of a voice coach.

Starwood Hotels recently introduced pet-friendly services at its hotel brands, including the W, Sheraton and Westin. At the W, pets receive a pet toy and treat at check-in and get their own pet bed and bowls. The concierge can also set up such services as pet sitting, dog walking and grooming.

Kelly Sanders, general manager of Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, said his hotel also offers similar services such as pet beds and estimated that on any given day about four guests have pets with them.

While it might seem like a small niche, Sanders said pet owners are loyal customers. A survey conducted by Starwood found that 76 percent of pet owners would be more loyal to a hotel chain that accepted pets, even when the owners didn't travel with their pets.

“It's a part of the market that is important for us to be in,” he said.

But loyalty only goes so far.

Popick said she plans to stay at the Loews in Nashville because of her experiences at the Coronado location. But when she visits San Diego without her dog, she avoids the Loews.

“We were, like, should we stay at the Loews? And I said, 'No, it'll make me miss Raider.' It would be obvious that he wasn't there.”

It is not only corporate chains that are courting pet lovers.

At Ocean Villa Inn next to Dog Beach in Ocean Beach, General Manager Kelly Collins said she had to turn away as many as 100 potential guests for the July Fourth holiday. As Collins has promoted its pet-friendly status and close proximity to the leash-free beach, she said, business from pet owners has increased by as much as 30 percent in the last six months.

The Inn has a dog run and a dog wash, and as many as half the rooms are reserved for dogs. Those rooms are on the lower floors and have tile floors, making cleanup easier.

At some other hotels, guests with pets stay in any room. Loews uses a special cleaning solution to prevent problems for other guests who have allergies.

San Diego itself is a lure for pet owners, Thompson said, crediting its lenient beach policy toward dogs and the number of restaurants that allow pets in their outdoor dining areas. In addition to Dog Beach in Ocean Beach, there are also leash-free beaches at Fiesta Island and Coronado.

“There are almost no beaches along the California coast that allow dogs, let alone off the leash,” she said. “San Diego is so perfect for dogs.”

Jennifer Davies: (619) 293-1373; jennifer.davies@uniontrib.com

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