Hotels are going to the dogs - for guests' enjoyment
Fluffy pillows might make hotel guests feel welcome, but sometimes face time with a floppy-eared mutt is what a road warrior might be craving.
That's why the Red Mountain Resort in St. George, Utah, offers the Pound Puppy Hike, a complimentary amenity that matches guests with a puppy or dog from a local shelter for hikes on scenic trails in the area. "We know that busy executives are visiting the property to recharge and disconnect yet stay active and not sit around," said resort general manager Tracey Welsh.
The Humane Society of the United States estimated in 2012 that there were pets in 62 percent of American households, so in Aspen, Colorado, guests missing their own pets are pointed to the Aspen Animal Shelter, which welcomes short-term volunteers and charges no fee to loan dogs for in-town walks or daylong hikes.
"The outings provide exercise and socialization for the dogs and often lead to successful adoptions," said Aspen Animal Shelter director Seth Sachson.
Some pet-friendly Aspen hotels, such as The Little Nell and the Mountain House Lodge, waive pet fees that can reach $125 per stay for guests that invite lucky shelter dogs to spend the night. And both The Little Nell and the Hotel Jerome provide shuttle service to and from the shelter, said Sachson.
Friendly "canine ambassadors" greet guests at eight North American Fairmont hotels, and many of those dogs can be booked for walks or runs around town. At the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, it is Mavis and Beau, while at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston, the concierge has a special appointment book for walks or runs with the very popular Catie and Carly.
In addition to being a bonus for younger guests (and their parents), "the program results in higher guest satisfaction and more personalized guest experiences, while positioning the hotels as unique and distinctive in their respective destinations," said Hadley Schroll, a spokeswoman for FRHI Hotels & Resorts, which owns the Fairmont brand.
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While offering loaner dogs, like loaner sports equipment, may give a hotel a leg up on its competition, "even programs with the best intentions are still objectifying animals" and putting some at risk, said Lisa Marcotte, business development manager for pet insurance provider Trupanion. "Those who have no commitment to an animal are less inclined to care for them properly or keep them from injuring people and damaging property," she said.
There's no need to worry about personal injury with Maya, Louie or George, the kitties that will sleep in a guest room for no charge at the Vintage Inn in Yountville, California, or with the free loaner goldfish offered through the "Guppy Love" program at Kimpton Hotels.
The program started in 1997 when the Hotel Monaco Seattle (part of the Kimpton collection) added a goldfish companion to the in-room dining menu. "It was an option at the bottom of the menu where guests could order it for $5 and we would often surprise VIP guests with a goldfish upon arrival as a fun amenity," said hotel spokeswoman Melanie Blair.
Instead of cashing in on what became a very popular demand, the hotel decided to make the loaner fish amenity complimentary for all guests and, eventually, so did all 61 Kimpton hotels.
And while no fish rental fees are collected, the goldfish seem to be earning their keep.
"While we initially chose the Monaco for its location, and for the wine hour, we now choose it because of the goldfish," said Liz Phillips, a middle school teacher from Portland, Oregon, whose family stays at the Hotel Monaco Seattle each Thanksgiving.
"The first year, we walked into the hotel room to find two fish bowls housing two huge goldfish with a note saying that the fish were named 'Bella' and 'Gabbie,' the names of our own children. Our kids were thrilled and after that experience there was no way we could ever stay anywhere else."
Harriet Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas. Follow Road Warrior at @CNBCtravel.