Acknowledging that Baby Boomers “won’t travel without their dogs,” innkeeper Steve Segner designed the El Portal Sedona Hotel with this canine family member in mind, and his efforts are being recognized on a big-dog scale. USA Today has named El Portal the nation’s best pet-friendly hotel.
“Today, the dog is even higher in the pecking order – it’s the new last kid,” he said.
The Sedona inn beat out acclaimed hotels such as Loews Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego; Fairmont in Washington, D.C.; Atlanta’s W Hotel Midtown; and Little Nell in Aspen, all of which made USA TODAY’s top 10 list. Pet-friendly hotels are tapping into the estimated $55.53 billion that Americans will spend on their pets this year.
“I’ve been in the pet business for 35 years, so we know pets,” said Segner, pet food innovator turned Sedona hotelier. “I opened and owned a pet store in L.A. in 1972. I was in my 20s and got an early understanding of the boomer market. The dog – formerly an outside animal – was moving inside and becoming part of the family.
“Many of my customers’ dogs were having skin and coat problems, so I had a pet food company design a food that would address the problem. It worked and from there we launched a national brand, Avoderm, and I got into the pet food business. We were the first to develop premium products that pet people could buy,” the founder of LA Pet Foods said.
“Companies like Purina were making animal food. We wanted to make our products to food standards, not animal standards and the market was ready for it. We produced the first microwave dog food and high premium brands,” he explained. After selling his business at age 55, Segner started designing and building El Portal Sedona, a pet-inclusive, luxury inn.
“My wife asked me what I was going to do with the land I owned in Sedona. I said, ‘I think I’ll build a hotel.’ I started by asking, ‘If you were going to Sedona from the East Coast in 1902 what would you expect to find?’ I researched and wrote the story about a rancher’s mansion designed in the Arts and Crafts style and then gave the story to the architect to help design the hotel,” said the history buff and collector of Arts and Crafts paraphernalia. Much of the furniture, light fixtures and architectural details such as doorknobs Segner assembled while living in Pasadena, Calif. Pasadena is known for its rich American Arts and Crafts heritage.
Segner designed the inn to be different from any other lodging experience in Sedona. There is no check-in; he wants his guests to feel as if they were visiting somebody with a big home. “I designed it so that when people come to the West, they would feel like they are in the West. It is not a bed and breakfast, guests pay for their breakfasts and we have our own guides on staff,” described the purveyor of the AAA Four Diamond Hotel, which is located right behind Tlaquepaque.
“If our guests want to go to the Grand Canyon or on another day trip, we’ll watch their pet at no extra charge,” said Segner as the hotel dog, Dexter, nuzzled his knee. The inn also provides a basket with treats, a doggie blanket and a list of things to do in Sedona with your dog. Segner has three other Basset hounds at home.
“We designed this inn with hard surfaces, double-insulated walls and floors, and much of the upholstery is leather, which is easy to wipe down. We clean after every visit like a hotel cleans once per year,” said Segner, who recently retired from the board of Pet Care Trust.
“Our guests love to sit around the campfire at night and tell dog stories. We get few cats, but interesting cats. These are cats that go on hikes with their owners and travel well. We see guests that travel back and forth between the East and the West. And then of course there are the snowbirds,” said Segner. “The dogs are extremely well-behaved. I’d much rather be around dogs than two-year-olds, and so would most of our guests.”
Segner offers advice to other businesspeople who would like to tap into the multi-billion-dollar pet market. “First, if the law will let you, let people come into your business with their dogs. Restaurant owners should see if you could get seating areas with pets. I’m sending 20 to 34 people per night to certain restaurants just because they allow dogs. The boomer with the dog is family. The same for 20- to 30-somethings without children, the dog makes their family.
“Remember any comment about their dog is like a regular comment to a child. So praise the pet, like you would their child,” advised the expert.
El Portal Sedona also has been named Top 50 Small Hotels in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler in 2011. FBN