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By William Poe

The Sheraton St. Louis City Center and the Westin St. Louis have sniffed up a “doggie happy hour.” The Westin likes to yap about its “turndown biscuits.” And, the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis barks with pride about the “special amenities” the hotel reserved for two canine companions of Oprah Winfrey when she came to town.

St. Louis hotels have, in fact, gone to the dogs…and, yes, cat lovers…to the cats and even occasionally to pets of a more exotic nature. Is this new trend just about catering to the special needs of guests, or is it niche marketing on its hind legs, to turn a phrase? Well, it’s a little of both.

“More and more organizations, including retailers and hotels, are instituting a ‘welcome pets’ policy,” says Melissa Lorenz; director of sales and marketing for the Ritz. “I really think it’s a trend. Pets, after all, are often considered to be part of the immediate family, and people want to accommodate them.”

And the Ritz is nothing if not accommodating. Ditto Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. While you may not recognize that name, Starwood’s brands include the more familiar Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis hotel properties. Starwood this past summer rolled out its Starwood LTD (Love That Dog) pet-friendly services at two of its St. Louis hotels. And it seems that the Starwood folks were motivated at least in part by marketing research.

“Starwood conducted a study of 400 dog owners and learned that 76 percent would be more loyal to a hotel chain that accepted dogs,” offers Mike Jorgensen, general manger of The Westin St. Louis. “We look forward to serving these new canine guests and their owners.”

Indeed, they have. The Westin, says Jorgensen, now offers a dog version of the hotel’s branded “Heavenly Bed,” food bowls, “turndown biscuits, and even room service menu choices including German Shepherd Pie, Shih-Tzu Sushi, Schnauzer Sausage Pasta, and Scooby Stew. (Is it just me, or do you think they went just a little over the edge with those menu monikers?)

Not to be outdone, the Sheraton counters with its canine ”Sweet Sleeper Bed,” doggie toys and canine massages.

“Starwood intends to become the most dog-friendly hotel company in the country, not only letting dogs stay, but pampering and spoiling them,” says Don Breckenridge, owner of Sheraton St. Louis City Center.

Indeed, dogs and cats are now officially welcomed at all Sheratons, Westins and W hotels throughout the U.S. and Canada.

That’s not to say that dogs and cats were not welcome before. Most upscale and luxury hotels have long had varied pet policies, meaning that some hotels received dogs and cats while others did not.

“Each Ritz sets its own policies,” Lorenz explains. She describes the Clayton hotel as “very pet friendly” and promises to “cater to any special need a pet has.” The Ritz simply chooses not to advertise the fact.

Most guests who travel with pets check with the hotel before booking, Lorenz says, adding that the pet-friendly policy at the Ritz “has not been a problem at all. You barely notice the animal is here.”

That wasn’t necessarily the case for the Busch Gardens entourage who, Lorenz says, brought with them two alligators, a bald eagle, a parrot, and a lemur—all of which stayed in guest rooms (along with their trainers) during a mid-summer stay during Fair St. Louis.

While the Ritz may have resembled a zoo that weekend, exotic pets such as those are considered on a case-by-case basis, Lorenz adds. No matter how pet-friendly a hotel wants to be, innkeepers realize that sometimes pets tend to, shall we say, leave a little something behind. That is why the Ritz does mandate that pet owners make their own cash deposit to cover special cleaning of the room, so it is fresh for the next guest.

At The Westin, guests sign a waiver governing pet management requirements and giving the hotel the right to assess a fee for any special clean-up or damages, Jorgensen says.

When asked if the hotel had received any complaints about pets in the hotel, Jorgensen says, “We’ve had no objections from anybody so far. For many travelers, pets are their children, so they are not going to abuse the hotel or other guests. They want to be able to bring them back.”

Caren Rolphing (in the background) and Patty Rea help with the LTD agility course.

Monica Adams from WIL Radio and her dog help roll out the LTD pet-friendly services.

William Poe is the owner of two dogs and one cat, and believes in leaving them at home.



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