With the past few years of COVID restrictions behind us (mostly) it's fun to be able to think of traveling again and in my mind, there is no better way to travel than with your dogs. In fact, I deliberately travel by road so I can bring my dogs with me. Also since my furry family is typically made up of senior dogs and special needs dogs with complicated needs, I am more comfortable bringing them with me than leaving them with anyone. Traveling with my dogs can be such a great adventure, but I am disappointed that we have yet to really evolve in terms of pet-friendly accommodation.
For one I am shocked that so many hotels still do not allow pets. I find that so surprising today when roughly 70% of households have a pet and of that, an estimated 69 million households own a dog. And when people travel, more and more they prefer to bring their furry family member along.
And the numbers continue to rise. Since COVID an estimated 23 million US households and 3.7 million Canadian households adopted pets according to the ASPCA and various surveys of pet parents show that an estimated 65%+ of families plan to travel with their pets this year. With a travel industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic, supporting pet parents as they return to travel is a glaring opportunity for the hospitality industry.
When I do find a pet-friendly hotel, motel, resort, or inn there are varying degrees of pet friendliness from expensive pet fees or deposits to restrictions on the number of pets or the size of the dog they will accept. Many hotels will only allow small dogs in their rooms, leaving a large population of families with big dogs with little or no options. So I ask, is this really pet-friendliness?
For many places, pet friendly merely means they will allow a pet to stay there but never really make us feel like our dogs are welcome or that the company honestly cares about our pets. I think what is missing is the realization that the families benefit, relax, appreciate, and enjoy their stay more when they know their pets are well taken care of, so pet friendly is really about being family friendly.
With that said there are definitely some in the hospitality world that do go above and beyond for our pets and to those, I say thank you, BUT even these places could be doing more. It is not only about offering a dog concierge or a dog biscuit in the room or complimentary bowls, leashes, and poop bags (though I appreciate the gesture), there are some simple yet fundamental amenities that I feel should be standard practice for making our stay with our pets a special experience. After all, isn't travel all about the experience?
I can break down our pet travel needs into two categories 1) essentials which include safety and 2) experiential which are ways to increase the enjoyment of our stay. I will use the term hotel throughout, but please know this means all accommodation types hotels, motels, inns, resorts, and even B&B's.
Hotel Pet Essentials
Let's talk about essentials first. Have you seen the height of most hotel beds? My first suggestion is for hotels to accept the fact that the majority of pet parents want their dogs in bed with them, so step one is to accept this fact and embrace it. So now that you are ok with dogs in your beds the second and most important step is to ensure our dogs' safety when navigating the height of these beds. I can honestly tell you that I am so afraid of my dogs jumping off or falling off these beds that I can barely sleep. Every time my dogs move I wake up worried.
On my most recent road trip I decided to try and solve this issue myself by bringing along our pet steps to see how they performed. These steps are designed to be super sturdy, and safe, thanks to guard rails and wide as well as shallow so senior dogs would be able to climb them with ease. I was honestly blown away by how well these worked in our hotel room and how it gave me such peace of mind in knowing my dogs had a safe way to get up, and more importantly to get down, from the bed. Something as simple as this was a total game-changer for my trip.
Pet steps are not ideal to travel with since they do take up a lot of space in our vehicle, but why can't hotels offer these to pet parents? They could either be a standard addition to every pet-friendly room or available upon request. And think of the difference it would make.
Another great option under the essentials category is an incontinence blanket. When traveling with our dogs and having them on hotel beds we all worry that urinary or even bowel accidents might happen. Seniors and special needs dogs are more prone but even young dogs out of their normal environment can have accidents, so having a simple way to protect the bed is another great way to help parents relax. And I am sure hotels would like this simple way to ensure that their beds stay clean. Just like having extra towels or a warm blanket in the hotel closet, you can have a queen-size waterproof incontinence blanket available for guests staying in pet-friendly rooms. A total win-win.
One last point to make on the essential side of this discussion is room location. Where possible please have your pet-friendly rooms on the ground floor so our dogs, especially those in their senior years, can get outside as safely, easily, and quickly as possible, especially important for potty breaks. I know this is not always an option, but should your layout allow it, I guarantee you that pet parents will vote for a ground-floor room each and every time to make it easier to take their dogs outside.
Improving Hotel Pet-Friendly Experiences
On the experiential side of things, there is so much more that can be done. First of all outside; please don't relegate us to a small square of grass that is off-putting to dogs and parents alike. Or an area far away from our rooms. Instead, why not create a potty oasis with landscaping choices that invite us to want to use this space? With thoughtful plant, tree and grass choices, you can create a hardy yet inviting space for bathroom breaks.
Inside the room is a great opportunity to make your guests feel welcome. This is something that some dog-loving hotels do well by leaving little pet-related gifts for their guests (furry and non-furry) which do bring a smile to our faces and are a great start. I would challenge you to do more in this area.
When making treat selections please select only truly healthy dog treats because anything else creates too much risk of stomach upset in our dogs. A dog that is vomiting or having diarrhea is the last thing a pet parent wants to have to manage when traveling with their dog.
On our recent trip, I brought along our Nibbles freeze-dried fruit and vegetable treats which are as healthy as you can get and gave our dogs a nutritious option at a time when travel can already make tummy troubles a possibility. The whole time I was there I could picture a gift basket with an assortment of healthy treats awaiting guests and giving them something unexpected that says we care about you, your dog, and their health.
Also, since many hotels are located in vacation spots, a big part of the fun is getting out to see the sights and explore the area and there is no better way to do this than with your dog. Parents want to take their dog on an adventure and hotels have rules about leaving dogs in the rooms unattended so being able to bring dogs along can be a great way for both sides to stay happy.
The challenge is that many dogs can only walk so far and many places may not allow dogs inside, but what about if the hotel offered dog strollers to guests? With a dog stroller you can walk around for much longer, help your dog to stay cool in the heat, go for a run if you like to stay fit on vacation, and many establishments will allow you to come inside if your dog is in a carrier so it would satisfy that as well. I bring my Dogger stroller everywhere for these reasons. I can stay out for longer periods, go further, and very often go almost anywhere I please by having my dogs in their Dogger.
Also when your dog is somewhere unfamiliar they may be nervous. The area may also be very busy putting your dog in harm's way and making them feel unsettled. Using a pet stroller can help to keep them relaxed and safe so everyone can truly enjoy the experience.
When I had my Winnie (my french bulldog who was terrified of people), I used our Dogger whenever we were around people and she was so relaxed when riding inside. On the ground, she would shake when people came up to her, often hiding behind my legs, but in her Dogger, she was totally fine with people petting her because it gave her a space where she felt safe.
Many places make bikes and even baby strollers available for guests so why not dog strollers? Having the freedom and security of getting around town and enjoying your vacation with your dogs would create such a special and memorable experience.
Redefining Pet Friendly Accommodation
Today's narrow definition of pet friendly, which is often limited to merely allowing pets to stay at the hotel, is how the hospitality world thought more than a decade ago. Now, more than ever, our pets are an important part of our family and it is time that the hospitality industry evolves and embraces this fact.
We want to travel with our pets and we will gravitate to those places that treat our pets the way they deserve to be treated, taking their safety, wellness and happiness into account, and in doing so, you are also creating an amazing experience for everyone, family and pets.
I believe that the future of travel will see an unprecedented number of people and pets traveling together. Those in the hospitality industry that are open-minded enough to embrace this reality will find significant success in leaving old notions behind in favor of new family-friendly experiences. It's really very simple, love our dogs and we will love you!
For any hotels looking for ways to take your pet policies into the future, please contact Ann-Marie Fleming.
Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of innovative assistive products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs and the families that care for them.