When canine and feline guests sign in at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Airdrie-North Calgary, staff is always at the ready to hand out a friendly letter penned by a dog, and a biscuit.
“It’s so different than when I was working in hotels in the 1990s,” says general manager Sonja Cuthbert. “Back then you never saw a pet. Now there are times when we have more pets during the week than kids.”
Having done a number of road trips herself with her two dogs, Cuthbert understands the value of pet-friendly properties. “I could care less about how they treat me, but if they recognize one of my boys and welcome them with open arms, that’s the best thing. I’m loyal every time a hotel pays attention to my dogs.”
Cuthbert is part of a growing number of guests who place pet-friendly amenities at the top of their agenda. “It’s the new norm in our industry,” she says. “If you aren’t accepting pets, you’re losing out one million per cent. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and you don’t need a $100 pet package to make somebody with a fur baby feel special. Sometimes it’s the little things you do that count.”
With skyrocketing pet adoptions during COVID, more and more hotels have jumped on board with pet-friendly programs, including Marriott and Four Seasons, among others. Offerings can run from the basic (no added amenities) to full-fledged pet packages that provide food bowls, beds, and specialty pet services (e.g. dog walking, pet sitting, spa services).
The numbers underscore the importance of pet-friendly programs. A 2022 Wag! survey in partnership with Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants found that 70 per cent of frequent travellers almost always seek out pet-friendly hotels, and 94 per cent of them would trade away at least one common amenity (e.g., hotel bar, concierge services, or gym access) in exchange for more pet-friendly policies.
Also, 26 per cent of pet parents rank pet friendly as the top hotel attribute, ahead of service, convenience, comfort, and affordability, while 36 per cent would pay more than $100 per night extra for pet-friendly hotel accommodations.
“Many new pet parents are on the road and aren’t willing to leave their pets behind so they’re looking for places to stay that not only allow pets, but welcome them with open arms,” says Nick Gregory, senior vice-president for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.
Kimpton has the distinction of being one of the first pet-friendly hotels, a tradition established in 1981 when founder Bill Kimpton would bring his dog to work. Since then, it has continued to enhance its pet-friendly services at no extra charge and with no deposit-fee requirements regardless of the size, weight, or breed. As its website states, “If the pet fits through the door, we welcome them in.”
The pet-friendly program at Kimpton runs like a well-oiled machine. Pets are welcomed by name on arrival. Some properties have “directors of pet relations,” honorary in-house dog staff members that greet guests in the lobby and add to the all-round pet-friendly atmosphere. Hotels also keep essential pet items such as bowls, mats, doggie bags, et cetera on hand as part of its Forgot It? We’ve Got It! program. Select hotels even allow guests to bring their pets to evening social hours. Guests also receive a welcome package with information on local pet-friendly resources such as dog parks, vets, pet stores, and local pet-friendly restaurants.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s Canine Ambassador program showcases its pet-friendly vibe with a team of dogs that share duties such as greeting visitors and going for walks with guests (which they can book through an app). Visiting pets receive a dog bed, food and water bowls, doggy bags, welcome treat, and a JPL-branded dog tag souvenir at check in. Guests can also order dog-tailored dishes from The Great Hound, a pet-friendly eating area surrounding the Great Hall.
The Fairmont Banff Springs, which also has a canine-ambassador team, donates $15 from every applied cleaning fee to the local Bow Valley SPCA as part of its pet policy.
Hilton’s pet-friendly programs are available at more than 5,000 locations globally. In addition to pet-friendly accommodations, Hilton has partnered with Mars Petcare to make travelling with pets more seamless and enjoyable, says Talene Staab, brand leader of Home2Suites by Hilton.
“Through Mars PET On-Demand, guests at Canopy by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, Home2 Suites by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton and Tru by Hilton hotels in the U.S. and Canada have access to a convenient online service with virtual support from the Mars Pet Expert Team (PET). Guests can get answers to questions related to travelling with their cat or dog during their stay.”
Hilton’s own data indicates that between Q1 and Q3 2022, the organization saw double-digit growth in bookings from travellers using the “pet-friendly” booking filter or pet landing pages on its website, says Staab. “Our ‘pet-friendly’ booking filter is the third most engaged booking search filter on Hilton.com. As 2023 continues, we expect it to remain popular as travellers look for every opportunity to bring their pets on the road.”
As an industry veteran in the area, Kimpton has always understood that pet-friendly policies are not just a nice to have. They’re also good for business, particularly on the loyalty front, says Gregory. “Our programs have inspired incredible brand support and loyalty among pet lovers. Returning and new guests often seek out Kimpton specifically for our pet-friendly policy.”
Cuthbert finds that pet-friendly services trump loyalty points or other perks. “Many could care less what points program we have. If we give each dog that comes in the door a cookie, that guest is sold.”
Connecting with pets is also a nice pick-me-up for staff, she adds. “It’s not unusual for things to stop when a pet arrives at the hotel. It gives us a welcome break during the day. Being able to take a few seconds to greet a pet is a win-win for everyone.”
BY DENISE DEVEAU