There’s something special about hotels that love dogs. While firms like Four Seasons, have embraced the canine, most cities boast, at best, a sprinkling of pup-friendly hotels. That’s changing fast, for two reasons. Bigger industry groups are financially savvy and always looking for ways to gain and retain business. And customers willing and able to travel with their hounds in tow are typically higher earners. Cha-ching!
Mumbai’s leading light in this field is without doubt the President hotel in Cuffe Parade, the city’s southernmost tip. Owned by the mighty Taj group, the President first went dog-friendly in 2010. A long-time pioneer among its peers, it opened India’s first Italian trattoria in the 1980s, and still dishes up 400 pizzas every night. Wink, a cheery bar nestling at the back of the hotel, is a favoured haunt of cricketers: your correspondent has personally sunk a few beers after-hours with England legend Andrew Flintoff.
But we are here to talk about its love-affair with our hounds (so long as they weigh 16kg or less. Why can hotels not deal with even mid-sized pups?). It was Ratan Tata, the Parsi billionaire whose grandfather Jamsetji founded the group, who decided to fling open its doors to dogs. “Mr Tata loves dogs - he has two of his own and takes them everywhere he goes,” Rini Chatterjee Sadri, the hotel’s head of public relations, tells Dudley & Co over a pot of tea in the sixth-floor Herbhouse café. “It was his idea to make us animal-inclusive.”
That attitude pervades the wider Tata group, which posted revenues of $111 billion last year. Every one of its 22 Vivanta-branded hotels are dog-friendly. When Ratan had the group’s Bombay House headquarters renovated in 2018, he left a corner of the building open to stray dogs that had made it their home. Inevitably, locals named it the ‘kennel’, and cluster in the mornings and evenings to fed its homeful hounds.
Back at the President, Sadri is running through myriad dog-friendly services. Guests bringing a pup pay 4,500 Rupees (£52; $65; €58), a one-off charge that covers cleaning costs. Humans and hounds are both welcome at the Herbhouse, where dogs can choose from six made-to-order options, including chicken sausages with potato mash, lamb mince risotto, and a bowl of chips topped with grated cheese.
“The hotel’s head chef loves dogs and knows what food is good for them,” she notes. “He makes special batches of canine-friendly oatmeal cookies every day.” Herbhouse is open from 2pm-11pm every day. When Dudley & Co visits, there is no one at home – the skyline is as black as night as monsoon thunderclouds envelop the city. But come the weekend, the place is “packed with dogs,” she adds.
Owners who stay here but leave to attend meetings – a regular occurrence given that most of the clientele are investors and industrialists – are asked to put a ‘doggie do-not-disturb’ sign on the door. “When our staff see that, they do not enter the room,” Sadri says. “It’s partly because dogs can get defensive in these situations, but also, God forbid we open the door and a dog runs away.”
The hotel is always looking for new ways to make business a bit stickier. Every month, the President hosts a ‘Canine High Tea’ afternoon on the west-facing terrace, where two buffets are laid out, one for those with two-legs and the other for those with four. “We have lots of water fun, including sprinklers to run through and a paddling pool for hot dogs,” she says. There’s a photo booth and arrays of doggie treats and toys, and trainers are always on hand to offer their services. There’s a cap on attendance: no more than 20 dogs and 35 humans. “Any more and it becomes difficult to manage the chaos,” she says. The next one is scheduled for August 10.
Mumbai, Sadri admits, “is still warming up to the idea of being dog-friendly. Indians are conservative when it comes to dining – it is still a sacred thing, where vegetarians and non-vegetarians have different kitchens. I’d say 70% of people believe dogs and humans should not dine in the same place.” Between 15-20 dogs stay at the President on a typical night, and staff are occasionally tested with left-field queries. “One guy asked us if he could bring an animal,” she adds. “It turned out to be a giant rabbit. That was a non-starter.”
But slowly, the idea of dogs being part of the lives of Mumbaikers is catching on. India’s biggest city prides itself on being at the forefront of egalitarian values, and the pet industry is growing in leaps and bounds as incomes rise. ‘Adoptathon’, an annual get-together in December at the Bandra-Kurla Complex in the financial heart of the city, is attended by more than 4,000 dog owners and firms, and helps more than 100 dogs get rehomed. It’s another sign of hopeful progress in a city, and a country, that is slowly falling in love with dogs.