"Ms. Hansen, your fish are waiting in your room and will be happy to see you," a front-desk employee at Chicago's Hotel Burnham told me last month as he handed over my room key. Burnham is one of 23 Kimpton Hotel properties participating in the chain's Guppy Love program. New York City's SoHo Grand Hotel likewise lets travelers choose whether to share their room with some of its "goldfish team members."
These days, the coziest hotel trend has nothing to do with plush mattresses or comfy slippers. It's about catering to guests who had to leave their furry, feathered or finned family members at home. This spring the Fairmont in Sonoma, Calif., added a dog to its staff, a chocolate Labrador named Zeus who is tasked with such things as welcoming guests in the lobby and going on hikes with them or what is referred to, in corporate jargon, as "interactive guest appreciation."
Unlike traveling with your own pet, hotel-centric critters offer low-level commitment at Kimpton properties, the staff will clean the bowl and feed the fish for you while still cozying up your room so it feels more like home. Research has shown that simply petting a dog can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and psychologists have long posited that the sight of fish swimming in a tank or bowl has a similarly calming effect. (Case in point: I relocated my fish to the windowsill so they could get a better view of Chicago's architecture, and I of them.)
From Kenya to Canada, resident pets are upping hotels' friendliness factor. Catie Copley, a black Labrador at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston, is so popular with guests that they can sign up via e-mail (Catie has her own address) in advance of their stay to take her on walks around town. "She definitely gets booked up," says Suzanne Wenz, who handles the hotel's public relations.
Meanwhile, Bachelor, a yellow Labrador at the Ritz-Carlton in Beaver Creek, Colo., is available for hiking and snowshoeing excursions as part of the hotel's Loan-A-Lab program. He has even been incorporated into wedding ceremonies and proposals. The hotel gets its dogs from Colorado shelters, and although guests don't have to pay to book some quality canine time, they are asked to make a donation to a local animal shelter. "We feel like we're giving back," Parool Shah, the hotel's p.r. director, says of the dogs. "We want to ensure that we give them a great life and a great purpose."
Out of concern for guests with pet allergies, hotels don't allow staff dogs to enter their bars or restaurants. The same rule applies for the one luxury hotel I found New York's Algonquin that has a resident cat. In addition to welcoming guests, Matilda's official mission, according to her Facebook page, is "to nap in every corner of the hotel's historic lobby." Nice work if you can get it.