The pandemic has been tough for the hospitality industry, but one luxury hotel in a Somerset beauty spot has enjoyed booming business throughout – and guests don't even have to wear masks or adhere to social distancing rules.
Their secret? They only cater for canines.
For £40 to £80-a-day, the fully-booked establishment welcomes Britain's pampered pooches and has previously hosted dogs belonging to TV presenter Lorraine Kelly and football legend Harry Redknapp.
A luxury hotel in a Somerset beauty spot where guests do not wear masks or social distance has enjoyed booming business throughout the pandemic – despite its reputation for being barking mad.
The Country Dog Hotel, an 18 room farmhouse in the Quantock Hills near Taunton is run by Rebecca Linnell, 40, alongside her partner Michael Walton, 33, a former teacher.
They opened the fancy four-legged-friendly establishment after noticing a gap in the market for luxury home boarding when they were moving house in 2016.
"We knew we were taking a big risk setting this up, but I love dogs," Linnell explains.
As well as having worked in recruitment, she had experience working in rescue kennels and with a rescue group in Thailand, so she felt pretty qualified for the task.
"Our hotel is very bespoke, with no humans allowed outside the lobby unless they are inspecting our facilities for their dog,” she continues.
“The dogs have a toy room, a snug, a lounge, a library for older dogs to keep them away from puppies full of energy, and a biscuit bakery with an Aga in the kitchen, a dog cinema and we’ve just opened our first dog spa."
The sleeping arrangements are somewhat different to a conventional hotel.
“Dogs generally don’t like being alone in their room like human hotel guests, so they sleep in the 18 rooms in the farmhouse, usually sharing rooms," Linnell says.
“They can sleep by a warm aga or on a bed.”
And for nervy dogs who normally sleep with their owners, hotel staff are prepared to go the extra mile to make them feel comfortable.
“Some clients wanting our VIP package say their dog likes sleeping with a human in a bed, so one of our staff will sleep with them on the bed," Linnell explains. "Some dogs can suffer separation anxiety otherwise.”
With amenities such as trips to the beach and beauty treatments on offer, the hotel's guests have so much to enjoy that many of their owners say they wish they could stay too.
“In the library we might put on Classic FM, so the dogs can enjoy a relaxing snooze – a bit like the way grandparents are at Christmas," she adds.
“While they don’t read the library’s books, they show a lot of interest in our outdoor cinema and love watching TV.
“We also put on dog popcorn and dog-related films, because it’s a tailored holiday.
“Some dogs really do actually watch. Some howl and bark at the screen – although others don’t have a clue and don’t show interest.”
And for more active pooches, there are plenty of alternative pastimes.
“The bored ones have three and a half acres fenced off where they can roam off-lead.
“For other entertainment we sometimes have an acoustic guitarist in playing them live music and they can join the cooking of their biscuits in the Aga.
“We also take them to Cheddar, where there is a specialist dog cafe that just makes dog biscuits and dog cakes, and they go to famous sites like Glastonbury Tor.
“And we put on dog shows. An online one recently raised over £3,500 for the Wild at Heart Foundation.”
Watch: Meet the world's most pampered pooches.
Lonely dogs and pining owners can keep in touch by video, through Messenger from Facebook catch-ups.
And, at the end of their stay, canine customers are given personalised biscuits, bowls and balls with their names on, along with going-home treats.
“We want owners to be able to go away themselves and be guilt-free, knowing the dogs will love their stay," Linnell says.
“When the dogs leave, our staff often get licks on their face or a paw – although we must admit they don’t do very well on tips!”
Also on offer at the hotel are all the normal grooming and clipping services, ear, nail and teeth treatments, mud packs – which are good for de-matting fur – and even massages.
“There’s a jacuzzi, which is an adapted wooden hot tub, but the water is not hot and a paddling pool," Linnell adds.
“And if they’ve been rolling in the mud we give the dogs baths, so they look fluffy.
“But we are careful not to humanise them and only lay on things that dogs enjoy.”
Linnell says the hotel is keen not to be too gimmicky. "The only time we would ever think of putting on a funny accessory like a hat is maybe at Christmas, when everyone does,” she adds.
While some of their celebrity owners prefer to remain anonymous, Lorraine Kelly is happy for people to know how much her border terrier Angus loves staying at the hotel.
And she is far from the only glamorous owner boarding her pooch there, according to Linnell, who says she's also had to put one cavapoo on a private jet back to its owner in The Bahamas.
“We’ve also had one dog guest here for a year and a half because COVID has left the owners stuck in South Africa," she adds.
While the couple are thrilled they have remained busy during the pandemic, running a luxury dogs’ hotel certainly takes a lot of work.
“We’re on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Linnell adds.
“We can’t go away much, although for my 40th in July I have booked to go to the Bahamas for two weeks – but it’s to a dog sanctuary!”
Nightly stays for staycationing hounds cost from £40 for a standard package to a VIP rate of £80, and the No Vacancy message goes out once they have a maximum of 10 dogs.
“We are booked well ahead and we’ve even had a request for 2023 already. Some regulars book their own holiday around when we can take their dog," Linnell continues.
Following their success, the couple are now planning to open a second hotel in Somerset for smaller dogs and despite the demands of her work, they would never want life to be any other way.
“Of course there are people who think we’re barking mad for doing this, but we love it.”
Additional reporting PA Real Life.