A very informal smattering of data and commentary about the complex debate (for owners) about whether to be a dog friendly property or not. The below data is objective, and clearly indicates the benefits of adding a pet friendly policy to your hotel. Â In fact, this is likely old news, as our whole industry has started “going to the dogs”. But I compiled this, and thought it might be useful to some people in making their arguments. There is a long list of subjective points that could be discussed for hours, as the topic of dogs is fiercely emotional and personal, both to pro and anti-dog people. There are plenty of studies suggesting that dogs increase happiness, reduce stress, reduce depression, and prolong lifespans in human owners, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol – this, however, is not always enough to make a decision in the business world. Unfortunately, GNP does not mean Gross National Happiness, and business often means bottom line. Below are some ways to understand the impacts of dogs on the guest experience…..
I) Thoughts from Paul Burditch, owner of an excellent Luxury Hospitality PR & Marketing company, Burditch Marketing Communications, in regards to hotels in San Francisco, and a decision *not* to allow dogs at a property:
Travelers who come from all over the world know San Francisco to be a dog paradise – it should be given certain treatment so that it is welcoming, & visibly warm & fuzzy feeling. If dogs are not allowed, we will have a responsibility for a fair explanation of *why* we do not allow dogs, especially in light of the entire industry moving that direction. Â Most San Francisco hotels allow dogs, and the national parks and Golden Gate National Recreation Area are one of the most popular places for dog walkers & dog fans in the city. Dog owners who stay nearby will see many dogs on the trails, or at Crissy Field, and throughout the park system. This might not only have negative PR implications, but it will be a negative impact on those that see dogs throughout the city, parks, and out our back door. Almost all hotels in San Francisco allow dogs including the top boutique companies Joie de Vivre (ed note: kaput), Kimpton and luxury properties like Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, St. Regis and others. San Francisco is one of the most dog friendly cities in the country, with the parks being a perfect place for dogs and owners to enjoy. To not allow dogs is going against the bigger trend in dog policies here in San Francisco. A no pet policy is antithetical to the prevailing opinion of most Americans and pet owners in the country today. There are 78 million dogs in the U.S. and 39% of U.S. households own at least one dog. With the abundance of dogs throughout SF and the parks, a decision to disallow pets will have obvious negative PR implications. At this point, it’s almost assumed that they are allowed, and “no” is never part of a good guest experience.
II) FINANCIAL DATA:
At one unnamed property: “We’re at $24,475 in dog fees through October YTD. It’s a one-time $75.00 fee (most fees are much less, but balanced against the full cost of dog sitter or kennel if guest were to leave them at home), regardless of length of stay. The audit report only gives posting totals, so no way to track Room Night production. I’d make an educated guess of 550 – 600 total Room Nights YTD. The total doesn’t breakdown evenly when divided by $75 because we had a few in there we only charged $50 because their rez was already OTB when we changed the fee and a few we charged $100 because they had more than 2 dogs. It is our opinion that these guests would have stayed elsewhere with their pets, and we would have lost the room nights. This does not account for incremental revenues. [ed note: this is from a peer who doesn’t know I am posting this. It’s anonymous, but if ANYONE has ANY concern at all re: financial disclosure, I will take this down].
Incrememental revenues = selling branded or logo’d hotel merchandise to dog owners – whether homemade local treats or a rubber ball with your brand stamped on it.
III) Articles, info, data:
“In a TripAdvisor survey of more than 1,100 pet owners in the United States, nearly half said they plan to travel with their animal within the next 12 months.”
b) Pet Friendly Travel via Bella Dog magazine, also talks about airline fee frustrations, and more:
The majority of pet owners surveyed (61 percent) said they travel more than 50 mi. (80 km.) with their pets at least once a year, with 38 percent of those pet owners stating that they travel as often as once a month with their pets. Pet friendly travel still is almost exclusively for dogs, with over half of the pet owners (61 percent) saying that they choose to travel with their dogs (33 percent of pet owners travel with their cats). (Source: Bella Dog magazine)
c)According to the U.S. Travel Association: Pets make great travel companions. Over 49 percent of U.S. adult leisure travelers consider theirÂ petÂ to be part of the family and 18 percent of U.S. adult leisure travelers usually take their pets with them when they travel. (Source: travelhorizonsTM, July 2009)
Why the change of heart? Travelers with pets are a huge market, and one that is untapped at the luxury level. According to the Washington, D.C.-basedÂ Travel Industry Association of America, there are 62 million dog owners in the U.S., and 29 million of those hit the road with their dogs in tow. The latest American Express Leisure Travel survey, released in October 2003, found that 13% of its respondents described an ideal vacation as one that is “pet-friendly.”
The nation’s pet boarding industry has figured out it doesn’t take much persuasion to get pet owners, often guilty about dropping their dog or cat off at a kennel while they head off on vacation, to pay extra for pampering: In the last five years, spending on pet services including boarding and grooming has more than doubled to $2.5 billion, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association in Greenwich, Conn.
f) Hotels renting pooches to guests without dogs via Time.com
These days, the coziest hotel trend has nothing to do with plush mattresses or comfy slippers. It’s about catering to guests who had to leave their furry, feathered or finned family members at home. This spring the Fairmont in Sonoma, Calif., added a dog to its staff, a chocolate Labrador named Zeus who is tasked with such things as welcoming guests in the lobby and going on hikes with them â€” or what is referred to, in corporate jargon, as “interactive guest appreciation.” (I have seen this in many JDV hotels as well. This trend started after studies showed that petting a dog or having a pet around reduces stress and increases health)
g)Fairmont’s doggy ambassador delights guests (same as above, but more info)
h) Top Dog Hotels via USA Today (same Tripadvisor rankings from above, but a little more about the hotels and amenities)
i) Recent press release for Bernardus in Carmel Valley via SF Gate PRWire (the fact that someone does a press release is typically because the new amenity has relative strength or equity to the brand and bottom line)
j) Kimpton’s Argonaut with their “Howl-O-Ween” dog costume contest (something that drives room nights and community around Kimpton property)
k) 15% of people are allergic to dogs (not including the 30% of asthma sufferers who are allergic), while 40% of people own dogs. With stringent cleaning methods (or just normal ones), i have yet to hear of an allergic person with a problem inside a room, let alone ever knowing whether they had been place in a room previously occupied by a dog. For those truly allergic, they usually mention it, and it’s never an issue to accommodate all those concerned. What’s more, hotels have been dealing with chemical sensitivity and allergies to things like down, etc, for years. One more thing won’t be a major impact or operational issue.
l) Dogs that travel with people are typically incredibly well behaved, and often better and more quiet than children. We also know weight limits are not necessary, because a) most large breed owners don’t travel with their pets, and b) a chihuahua can do as much, if not more, damage as a larger breed. Â But if that rare bark is a concern to owners, remember that acoustics won’t be an issue – a crying baby is louder than a dog in most acoustic tests: http://www.
We have seen a lot more conversation on an internal industry level and an external marketing level because it has become so much more popular in recent years. Opening without a pet-friendly policy, only to allow it later, would create PR issues because it is difficult to recapture initial interest after telling people that you are not dog friendly.
Observing and mulling all the above data and information, it seems pretty obvious what the right choice is for your guests, and your hotel. Â Any complications, of which there are few and it’s very rare, is what needs to be discussed further. I have a couple dog policies I can share, if you need them…. but overall, we feel strongly that a pet friendly policy should be approved for any hotel looking to drive revenues and capture new markets.
Hope this helps guide the decision making process.
UPDATE A FEW YEARS LATER… here’s a great new infographic.