Michelin-like menus, pet spas, dog yoga – pet-friendly offerings at hotels are getting ever more high-end, with luxury hotels going the extra mile.
This comes amid an explosion in pet ownership in countries such as China and India, and with travellers overjoyed to have their furry friends tag along.
Colin the 10-year-old miniature schnauzer lives a simple life of routine in Hong Kong’s Tseung Kwan O district: wake up, walk, poop, eat, sleep, repeat.
But last month his daily schedule was interrupted, requiring some tough decision making: should he order the braised Australian beef with green peas and brown rice (HK$220/US$28) or the farm-raised pork confit with lentils and buttered carrots (HK$200)? The four-rice risotto with grilled salmon and eggs (HK$170) also looked tempting. (He ended up opting for the grilled chicken with semolina dry pasta at HK$190).
Colin, along with owners Tom and Alice Eves, were literally living the high life 24 floors up at the luxury Rosewood Hong Kong hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, which opened in March.
Perched on the edge of Victoria Harbour, the hotel is upping the city’s luxury pet offerings with a policy of providing four-legged guests with the same amount of pampering as its two-legged ones.
Sandro Gamba, director of culinary operations at Rosewood Hong Kong, says just as much thought goes into planning a pet menu as a human one.
“Dishes on the pet menu are designed to be equally attractive as those on the regular menu, except there’s no seasoning added to ensure optimal palatability,” he says.
Born in France, Gamba’s five-star hotel experience spans the globe, from the Park Hyatt in Chicago, to the Intercontinental in Geneva, the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi and, most recently, the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai Pudong.
He says Rosewood goes to great lengths to create a seasonal and diverse dog menu that supports local produce. “We source the best herbs and vegetables from our Tai Long Wan farm and honey from [Sha Tin’s] Wing Woo Bee Farm,” he says.
And no request is too small. “One guest requested bottled mineral water for her dog. She said he preferred the taste to regular filtered water.”
Tom Eves says Colin’s five-star experience started from the moment they were picked up at their flat in one of the hotel’s high-end Range Rovers.
“When we entered the suite, Colin went from room to room, jumping on sofas and checking out his two beds. He was also a fan of the bath mats,” he says. Colin also got lavished with home-made toys, chicken-flavoured toothpaste (and his own toothbrush) and a smorgasbord of treats – “he loved the mixed meat jerky” – that he could order from the menu.
But it was the personal touches – a handwritten welcome message, and the attention the staff bestowed on Colin – that took the experience to the next level.
Pet hotels in Hong Kong are nothing new. What has changed, though, is the upwards shift in the quality of services. And it’s not surprising hotels at the top of the chain are going the extra mile.
The global pet-care industry was estimated to be worth US$132 billion in 2016 and is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 4.9 per cent until 2025, according to a report last year by Grand View Research. India is expected to have the fastest-growing market due to its rising disposable income.
The China market is also booming, one driven by an explosion in pet ownership that has seen the number of pets increase from 389 million in 2013 to 510 million in 2017, according to online industry platform China Pet Market. A higher standard of living, combined with more disposable income, means people have more cash to splash on their pets.
In Hong Kong, a 2017 study by the Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong showed that the cat and dog population in the city rose 72 per cent in 10 years from 2005-06 to 2015-16, from 297,100 to 510,600. It expected to hit 545,600 this year.Shifting demographics, from a rise in the number of elderly people,who buy pets to help cope with loneliness, to a drop in marriage rates are among of the reasons for the increase.
Hongkonger Sarah Wong can relate to this.
The 25-year-old graphic designer has no plans to marry or have children. “But I want to expand my ‘fur family’,” says the owner of two rescue Pomeranians. “A lot of my friends feel the same.”
She is also happy the city’s pet economy is expanding. Now there is everything from dog yoga sessions and pet spas to pet hydrotherapy and acupuncture. There has also been a rise in dog-friendly cafes and restaurants, and better pet-care product choices (she guiltily admits to spending about HK$800 a month on high-end dog treats).
Alice Ho, also from Hong Kong, is glad of the changing landscape, too.
“I travel a lot and had always admired hotels overseas that are pet friendly, so I’m glad Hong Kong has more options,” says the “30-something”.
In June, Ho and her Instagram-famous golden retrievers Fansu, nine, and Bodhi, four, who have more than 182,000 followers, checked into the Ovolo Southside hotel in Hong Kong’s Wong Chuk Hang neighbourhood to experience the hotel’s new “VIPooch” service. It was her first “staycation” with her dogs.
“It was a decent getaway night with the boys and they were so excited, sniffing here and there, looking out the windows to watch people play football and basketball,” says Ho. Her dogs had their own beds and bowls and “Doggy Bag” with a specially designed dog toy and treats.
“Guests we bumped into were all friendly with the dogs and the staff were so kind, so that made me happy.”
Marc Brugger, managing director of Rosewood Hong Kong, says its pet programme treats owners as “pet parents”, and this is a vital first step to providing a successful pet service.
“We understand that pets are part of the family and that pet ‘pawrents’ want to take their favourite four-legged family members on holiday, so we strive to provide our furry guests with an ultra-residential experience and unparalleled comfort at Rosewood Hong Kong, and also at Rosewood Residences,” he says, referring to the serviced apartments Rosewood launched this month (monthly rentals ranging from HK$57,000 to HK$1.6 million).
John Butlin, a British man who has lived in Hong Kong for more than 20 years, says the best part of his recent three-night surprise birthday stay at the Rosewood was that Pepper, his one-year-old rescue Labrador, could join him.
“It was great – Pepper got to use the guest lifts and public lobby areas, which made it easier to get in and out of the hotel quickly for toilet runs,” Butlin says. “The staff were dog friendly and even greeted Pepper by name so they had been briefed, which was nice.”
Pepper seemed to enjoy the state of elevated luxury and space, and was very keen to explore the hotel.
“We saw other guests with their dogs as well in the lobby, which was nice. Some of the other guests were understandably nervous on seeing a dog in the lift and would step out, but most people found it amusing, especially the Borussia Dortmund soccer team and the Hong Kong actress Sandra Ng [who were also staying there].”
And advice for those thinking of booking a pet package?
“Do it! It’s a lot of fun,” Butlin says. “Just remember to take your dog for regular walks to avoid toilet accidents. And remove anything valuable which looks chewable.”