As the sand heats up, so does the competition among Santa Monica's luxury hotels and this summer, that competition will be fiercer than ever.

Two new beachfront hotels have been built in the Westside hotspot over the past year, meaning there are now four luxury hotels virtually bumping up against each other along the city's shoreline. All of them offer similar amenities at similarly steep prices, though each is doing everything it can to carve out a specific niche for itself.

Hotel marketers say there's more than enough business to go around, contending Santa Monica is stealing market share from such places as Beverly Hills as businesses migrate westward and the clean air and easy freeway access of the beachfront city prove irresistible. But they're still doing everything they can to spruce themselves up as they square off for battle against each other.

Reacting to the arrival of the new Le Merigot and Hotel Casa Del Mar, Loews Santa Monica is in the midst of a $15 million facelift. The hotel, which has long positioned itself as the family-friendly alternative for the jet set, is also targeting pampered pets.

On June 23, the hotel will officially launch its "Loews Loves Pets" program, which started quietly last fall, with a marketing blitz. The program offers treats, toys, beds, and such room-service fare as roasted salmon for Fluffy and grilled steak for Rover.

"We know a lot of people think pets are part of the family," said Sara Harper, Loews' spokeswoman. "We are a family hotel company."

Loews will donate 5 percent of the pet-generated proceeds to the Los Angeles chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. So far, about 10 guests per month have brought along their four-legged companions.

For most of its history, the Santa Monica hotel has lured families with its "Loews Loves Kids" program, offering such activities as treasure hunts and sandcastle building.

Loews isn't the only Santa Monica hotel that's going after the sort of customer who carries Pomeranians in Louis Vuitton purses. Next door, the brand-new Le Merigot exudes contemporary European elegance and welcomes upscale business travelers and dogs under 15 pounds.

Plenty of competition

Meanwhile there is Shutters on the Beach, which charms with its Cape Cod ambience, and across the street on Ocean Front Walk there is the Hotel Casa Del Mar, a former diet center that was turned into a hotel after a $60 million facelift that renewed its original Italian Renaissance grandeur with sweeping staircases and intricate mosaic and tilework. Both Shutters and the Del Mar owned by the Edward Thomas Hospitality Corp. cater to advertising, financial and entertainment-industry executives.

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