On July 27, the Aloft Orlando Downtown in Florida will throw a special party to mark a warm-and-fuzzy milestone that is dear to the hearts of hotel associates, guests and people in the community. It’s called the Bow Wow Luau, and it will celebrate the 100th dog to be adopted in a partnership with the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. Hotel staff is reaching out to people who’ve adopted dogs in hopes of getting all 100 to attend, reunion-style. The luau is not your everyday canine mixer. The event will have two Hawaiian-themed food trucks, live music, a Pawaiian costume contest and other fun activities. Special drinks such as Whisker Sours and Barky Marys will be served at the bar. In addition, the Pet Alliance will showcase 14 tricked-out dog houses featuring custom tile work at the Bow Wow Luau. They’ll be part of a silent auction and raffle. The event is also open to dogs from all over — and their owners can drop by, too.
With over 150 hotels now open in over 20 countries and territories around the world, Aloft Hotels, part of Marriott International Inc., delivers a fresh approach to the traditional staid hotel landscape. For the “always on” next generation of traveler, the Aloft brand offers a tech-forward, vibrant experience and a modern style that is different by design. The foster dog program is exclusive to Aloft hotels managed by Tampa-based McKibbon Hospitality. It began at Aloft Asheville Downtown, and was so successful that it has spread to Aloft Greenville Downtown and Aloft Tallahassee Downtown.
The foster dog program had serendipitous beginnings, dating back to 2014. When Emma Ledbetter, director of food and beverage at Aloft Asheville, was flying to interview for her job, she sat next to a man who worked at an animal rescue facility. They got to talking. In an additional stroke of kismet, she sat next to the very same man on the flight home. The encounters sparked an idea in Emma.
After securing her job, she brainstormed with the hotel general manager about having an “ambassador dog” that would ultimately be adopted. The first canine guest, Gabriel, was housed in the back office. It took just three days for him to get adopted. Subsequently, the staff moved its foster dogs — vetted and chosen by the Pet Alliance — into a 12-square-foot contained area in the lobby next to the front desk, and had a custom dog house built that’s a replica of the hotel building, designed and built pro bono by a local architect.
“Even associates who aren’t really dog people got excited and helped make the program a success,” Emma says. “And the guests love it. It’s so fun to see businessmen come in, and the first thing they do is greet the dog.”
Aloft Orlando Downtown adopted the program on May 23, 2018. The pooches are chosen for their ability to thrive in a hotel-lobby environment, and, of course, for maximum cuteness. Over the course of the program, canines have been adopted by locals as well as hotel guests, some of whom have changed their travel plans to accommodate the adoption.
One of them was Travie McCoy, the frontman for the rap-rock band Gym Class Heroes, who was staying at the hotel for a few days as part of a tour stop at nearby Amway Center. He became smitten with Panda, adopted her and took her home to New York. Panda was adoption No. 26 for the hotel.
Overall, the program, active in the four Aloft hotels run by McKibbon and likely to expand, has yielded benefits well beyond placing dogs in new homes. It provides guests with a novel and heartwarming experience unusual to a hotel stay, infuses a sense of purpose in the staff that transcends its daily workflow and rallies the community to the cause.