From Pandemic Pet to Travel Buddy: How Hotels Are Wooing Furry Friends

It's simple claws and effect.

It's time to stow your tray tables and secure your luggage in the overhead bins—travel is back in full swing. Introducing Return Ticket, a collection of first-person stories, thoughtful guides, and clever hacks designed to help aspiring globetrotters navigate our new normal as safely and smoothly as possible. Buckle up and prepare for liftoff.

Check into Culver City’s Shay Hotel as a four-legged companion, and you may as well be one of the Hollywood celebrities that frequent the area. You’re draped in an eye-catching bandanna and presented with a welcome Puptini, bone broth—kettle-cooked, of course, stocked with superfoods like turmeric and apple cider vinegar, and served up in a plastic cocktail flute just big enough to stick your snout in. Pupparazi snap your photo in front of a step and repeat before you head to your room where a dog bowl and fluffy dog bed await, all the better for stretching out and gnawing on wild-caught salmon treats created by local vendor and rescue animal advocate, Kono’s Kitchen.

Check into The Shay as a human, and maybe you get to hold your pup’s leash while they’re being pampered before throwing your credit card down for the $100 per night pet fee ($15 goes towards pet rescue organizations). Want your own welcome drink? “There’s three bars on-property,” says the hotel’s general manager, Ryan Parker. Translation: Buy your own.

Bronx, friend of The Shay, poses at the step and repeat. He's a natural. | Courtesy of The Shay Culver City

Even before opening in fall 2021 during the thick of the pandemic, The Shay knew creature comforts would be a major focus for their brand. Parker has two rescue dogs of his own that he travels—and kayaks—with. At The Shay, there are no weight limits on the pets, and beyond the hotel itself, they integrate themselves into the pet-lovers community. They host pet influencer events, mobile pet adoptions, and fundraisers for the K9 youth alliance, which pairs dogs that might have trouble being adopted with children from underserved communities.

But the hotel's pet-loving fur-ocity is less an anomaly and more an acknowledgement of where the industry is headed. Even pre-pandemic, in 2019, 67% of households in the US owned pets. Now it’s up to 70. According to the ASPCA, another 23 million households—one in five—adopted pets during the pandemic. It was a veritable pet explosion, and even included among its ranks our new First Dog, Commander.

And with pet owners spending all day at home pampering and bonding with their new furry friends, it only made sense to bring them along when they were able to travel again. For many, leaving pets with a sitter or at a boarding facility was simply not an option. Not to mention, some pandemic puppies often haven’t had the chance to be fully socialized. “I have a year-and-a-half-old Golden Retriever that I have to travel with some of the time because he's not the most well behaved to bring to people’s houses,” says Brittany Grammer, director of sales and marketing for Canopy by Hilton Boston Downtown.

A 2020-2021 online survey found 85% of pet parents hoped to travel in the next year, with 65% planning to bring their pets along. Ready or not, the pets are coming. Now the ball’s in your court, hotels.

Still a little sleepy, it seems. | AboutLife/Shutterstock

Of course, pet-friendly hotel accommodations are nothing new. Since they first opened in 1981, Kimpton Hotels have embraced furry friends; founder Bill Kimpton was known to bring his own pup, Chianti, to work. Today, they continue to lead the pack, so to speak. While the fine print on most pet-friendly hotels usually stipulates dogs or cats (heavy on the dogs), Kimpton welcomes the “furry, feathery, or scaly,” all with zero pet fees. They also recently launched a partnership that gives guests a complimentary membership to and discounts on booking with WAG!, which connects pet parents with professional caregivers. Some Kimptons even have honorary canine employees they deem “Directors of Pet Relations.” The rigorous job entails greeting guests, testing out pet amenities, and bringing joy to those attending nightly Kimpton Wine Hours. The payment? Plenty of treats and belly rubs.

Pets also stay free at all Virgin Hotels, Red Roof Inns, and Motel 6s. But while in the past pets were usually relegated to hotels at lower price points, something to check off a list when it came to extra fees, what’s significantly different in today’s pet-pawsitive world is that more hotels—luxury and all—are following Kimpton’s lead. Pets aren’t just accomodated, but are actively being courted. And it’s a win-win for all involved.

“Many brands are actually seeing an increased occupancy due to being pet-friendly,” explains Grammer, referencing a growing list that includes her employer. “Canopy is not just pet-friendly, we encourage the pet’s stay.”

This year's National Dog Day treats. | Courtesy of Canopy by Hilton Boston Downtown

Gone are the standard in-room dog bed and Purina biscuit amenities. In the case of Canopy by Hilton Hotels, there’s the Paws in the Neighborhood program (typically $50 to $75 per night for 1 to 4 nights), presenting pet pals with the typical bowl and bed plus a locally made treat—say, from pet-focused bakery Polkadog—a gift bag with toys, and a guide to pet-centric activities in the area. The Canopy in Boston also enjoys a partnership with the Rose Kennedy Greenway across the street, ensuring access to prime outdoor space. “The pets are guests themselves,” says Grammer. “I think sometimes if you’re traveling with a pet to other properties, it feels more like a burden to the staff. Here, it’s welcome.”

And sometimes, like at The Shay, pet guests are subject to more pampering than their parents. At Rosewood’s Las Ventanas al Paraíso in Los Cabos, there are “doga” (AKA dog yoga) classes, portable pet cabanas for the beach or the pool, chef-made dishes, and dog massages on offer. San Diego’s Kona Kai Resort kicks it up a notch with a whole pet spa menu, including a free bottle of lavender oil for Fido with their “pawroma therapy.”

There are doggie butler services, engraved leashes, signature bowls, personalized dog beds, and dog room-service menus (at The Mark in New York, the in-room “Spoiled Dog’s Menu” is designed by none other than celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten). The Metropolitan 9 in Cleveland has its own 24-hour indoor dog park—the only one in the US—while the Tradewinds Resort in St. Petersburg offers doggie water fountains and fire hydrants in their off-leash area as well as pet-sized beach hammocks. There are adventure boxes in the Berkshires for outdoorsy pups, stocked with treats, toys, paw and nose balm, and flea and tick spray, and pet-friendly beaches and turndown treat service in Maine.

Heck, the whole country of Aruba just declared its loyalty to globetrotting pooches.

And if you’re willing to pay a whopping $995 a night (starting price), pets at the Mandarin Oriental in Boston are not only showered with gifts, but also can be dressed to the nines with a shopping consultation and a fitting with a Fish & Bone canine concierge.

Pampered pups at the Mandarin Oriental. It's exhausting being this loved. | Courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental Boston

Business Travel + Pets = An Op-paw-tunity

It’s not just that more people are vacationing with pets. Today’s remote work reality means that an extended business trip is much more within the realm of possibility. According to a McKinsey survey, 58% of Americans say they’re able to work from home at least one day a week, while 35% can choose to work from home all five days. According to the same survey, when folks are allowed to work from home, 87% jump on it. That also includes working from hotels. “It’s what we call bleisure, the business-leisure trip,” says Grammer. “Now it includes the pets and the children. No more mom or dad goes away for a couple of days—now everyone can go.”

Just as hotels are catering to remote workers—and neighborhood locals—by nixing tucked-away workstations in favor of shared spaces with more outlets and pleasant nooks and crannies for communal working, they’re doing the same for pets. The Canopy keeps dog treats in the lobby for pups to swing through and enjoy after a walk. If a pet owner has a meeting in one of their coworking spaces, The Shay offers a dog bed so their pet pal can nap alongside them. (If the meeting happens to be by the rooftop pool, they get their very own chaise lounge.)

For the hotel’s part, there are other considerations aimed to assist both pet owners and guests who would rather not be around four-legged friends. Things like the ability to check-in via an app, so anxious animals spend as little time as possible at the busy front desk. HEPA vacuums are on hand for extra cleaning needs, and some hotels even establish separate sections for the pet-averse. “There’s an alcove to another set of guestrooms that we keep completely pet-free, so if someone has allergies, they’re not going to encounter a vacuum that has cleaned a room with dogs,” says Parker. “It’s completely allergen-free, and completely pet-free. You will not hear a dog on that floor.”

Just one last look before you go. | Courtesy of the Shay Culver City

How to take advantage of all the off-furs

If you’re planning on bringing your pet to a hotel, there are a few items to keep in mind to ensure a pleasant experience. Keep their medical records with you for any emergencies, and make sure they’re sporting a tag clearly displaying your name and contact info. (In an ideal scenario, they’d also be microchipped.) In case the hotel doesn’t offer pet beds or dog bowls, invest in the packable versions. And be sure you’re aware of how in control they are of their bodily functions. “My best advice for prepping the pooch for an overnight stay is to make sure they have a favorite toy and blanket or towel from home for comfort, and request a room near the stairs since elevators and escalators can sometimes spook a newbie,” says Grammer. “And make sure they are potty trained!”

Parker also advises doing your own research or asking at the front desk where the best outdoor spaces and dog-walking areas are. “For example, Ivy Station’s park or Kenneth Hahn State Park located nearby are great spots where a dog can be taken for their own adventure,” he says. “Dog-friendly parks, off-leash parks, dog-friendly beaches—these are always good to find in advance.”

He also says to remember that the pup-friendly experience can also extend to dining—even if there’s no explicit pet-focused room-service or restaurant menu. “Don’t be shy about asking your server at a dog-friendly restaurant if there are any off-menu pup offerings,” he says. “Your pooch may be able to partake in some tableside VIP tastes too!”

Not asking? That would definitely be a faux-paw.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. She thinks the Puptini sounds pretty tasty, tbh.