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Starwood opens its doggie door

Times Staff Writer

It looks as though Bowser is getting out of the doghouse.

Mega-chain Starwood Hotels & Resorts decided this month to provide beds, food and water bowls, ID tags and treats to guest dogs at its Sheraton, Westin and W hotels. Under the new policy, dogs stay free at Sheratons and Westins, said Starwood spokesman Mark Ricci; W hotels charge a $25 fee per stay.

Although some chains, including Loews, Kimpton and Ritz-Carlton, have long been known as pet-friendly, Starwood, which runs more than 740 hotels worldwide, is among the largest companies to roll out the welcome mat.

Starwood’s move marks a major change in the industry’s attitude. “Years ago, dogs were like a bad four-letter word in the hotel business,” Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman Vivian Deuschl said, citing problems with cleanup and allergies.

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In the 1990s, the number of U.S. hotels accepting pets fell, said Tia Gordon, spokeswoman for the American Hotel & Lodging Assn. But in the last three years, the trend has reversed.

A big reason for hotels’ eagerness to sit, roll over and beg for canine guests, experts say, is the industry’s financial health. With the recession and the travel downturn, few can afford to turn away customers.

How many customers? There are more than 62 million dog owners in the U.S., nearly half of whom travel with their dogs. In a survey of 400 of them commissioned by Starwood, three-fourths said they would be more loyal to a hotel chain that accepted dogs, even when they weren’t traveling with them.

The renewed popularity of driving vacations -- the No. 1 way pets travel -- is also creating more demand.

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Addressing concerns of those who want to avoid contact with others’ pets, the three Starwood chains maintain pet-designated guest rooms on separate floors or in separate sections, thoroughly clean and run an air purifier, and forbid pets to linger in the lobby, Ricci said.

Among the more exotic perks in the industry: The five W Hotels in New York will, at extra cost, book massages for your dog.

Not to be outdone, Ritz-Carlton provides smaller dogs with Burberry trench coats and PuchiBags so their owners can carry them “Legally Blonde"-style at its Central Park hotel.

Left your pet at home? The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, in Colorado lends its resident yellow Labrador to guests for walks.

Hotels are more finicky about taking cats. Westin and Sheraton don’t; W hotels do, Ricci said, providing litter boxes, plastic gloves and scoop, toys, treats and catnip.

And no, the maid does not clean the litter box. You do. Grrrr....


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