Are Hotels & Destinations Ready for Pet Travel Companions?

COVID has forced many of us to work from home while limiting social interactions and travel. To fill social and travel voids, many people have welcomed pets into their homes. In fact, pet ownership experienced an 11% growth since COVID began with 9% being new dog owners. These new pet owners will return to travel. They will likely bring their pets with them at times. This means vacation destinations will likely experience an influx of new pet owners bringing young, and often less trained, pets with them. This essay introduces the concept of anthrozoology, includes an assessment of a recent hotel pet policy study, and provides post-COVID guidelines for catering to visitors that vacation with their new pets.

ANTHROZOOLOGY
Anthrozoology is generally accepted as the niche area of anthropology that the human/animal bond falls under. Although anthrozoology is anthropological in nature, the vast majority of research in this field has been conducted by veterinarians. One commonly accepted definition of the human/animal bond is from the American Veterinary Medical Association (2014), which states the human/animal bond is, “A mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment”. Some guests identify traveling with their pet to be an integral part of their human/animal bond.  

man with blue and maroon camping bag

We are working from home, rarely traveling, and overall interacting with people less often during COVID-19 than at any time in recent human history. This has led some of us to make the decision to adopt a new pet. A recent Statista (2020) study identified travel-habit trends related to pet ownership that travel professionals should be cognizant of when making business decisions. For example, there was an approximate 11% growth in pet ownership in the USA in 2020, constituting the largest one-year growth in pet ownership in recorded history. Furthermore, 9% of these pet owners did not previously own a pet. Finally, the new pet owners identified travel as their primary reason for not owning a pet prior to 2020. These individuals are likely to return to travel. Will they bring their new pet with them when traveling? With 11% more pet owners in the USA in 2021 than 2019, it should be predicted with confidence that an influx of young pets will join their human companions who have never traveled with a pet on a future vacation.

Vacation spots, from tourism providers to municipal governments, have important decisions to make regarding pet travel rules. There are likely drawbacks to allowing pets, in the form of allergens, faster depreciation of amenities, safety of guests and employees (e.g. housekeepers), and even fleas and ticks. Even without travel-specific studies in some areas, there is enough evidence to warrant concern that young pets traveling are a safety concern. For example, there were approximately 4.7 million dog bites in the USA in 2017, with nearly 1 million of these bites requiring medical care. The number of dog bites that took place at tourism establishments, as well as the ramifications of a bite at such locations (e.g. lawsuit, bad press), are unknown.

I conducted research in the area of hotel pet policies from 2013-2015.  Given the aforementioned COVID-driven pet ownership growth, I decided to pick my research up again. The data is hotel-specific but is telling to travel more holistically.

RESEARCH OUTCOMES

- Hotel frontline staff rarely understand their company's pet policy
- Effective hotel pet policies include these elements
- Best practices for hotel/guest agreements should include these components
Hotel frontline staff rarely understand their company’s pet policy

I conducted more than 150 interviews at 55 hotels based in four large metropolitan areas. Each hotel was called multiple times during the AM, PM, and overnight shift over a period of one month. I focused primarily on branded properties falling into the upscale, upper upscale, and luxury metrics of STR. I asked each interviewee these questions:

  • Does your hotel have a pet policy?
  • Are pets allowed at your hotel?
  • What types of pets are allowed at your hotel?
    • Are there weight restrictions? What are the weight restrictions?
    • Are there any breeds that are not allowed? Which breeds?
  • What is the maximum number of pets?
  • Are there any areas of the hotel where pets are not allowed? Which areas?
  • Are restraints on pets required in public areas?
  • Is a deposit required? Per night? Cleaning fee?
  • Are there housekeeping rules for entering a room with a pet?
  • Is there anything else someone should be aware of regarding hotel policies and pets?

Hoteliers rarely knew their property’s pet policy. When they did not know the pet policy, there were three types of responses: 1) they provided false information; 2) they said they would get back to me (most did, some did not); or 3) they had me wait on the telephone while they found the pet policy. Not one operator in the entire group could answer the questions correctly without following one of these three practices.  

I called each hotel many times. This is how I knew the information I was receiving was often false. Although many PBX operators and/or front desk agents spoke with clarity and confidence about their pet policies, they often contradicted each other. For example, one operator at 10am would tell me there is no charge for a pet and all pets are welcome while another operator at 7pm would say with the same confidence that pets are not allowed. 

There were, of course, some hotels and agents who seemed to be fairly consistent with the pet policy. This was rare but there were some.

Effective hotel pet policies include these elements

Hotels are businesses. Businesses exist to make money. If instituted properly, a pet policy can lead to enhanced revenue. A proper pet policy can also limit risk. Having investigated consumer sentiment about pet policies, this is a list of best practices that should be instituted when creating a pet policy:

  • Have specific rooms set aside for pets. All pet rooms should be near each other and not spread out property-wide. These rooms should preferably be located on the first floor.
  • If you must use second floor rooms, then ensure the pet rooms are located near stairs with direct access to the outdoors. Pets should not be in elevators. Their time in the lobby should be limited or the lobby may even be made inaccessible to pets if the physical structure allows for this
  • Pets should not be left unattended in guestrooms unless they are caged
  • Pets should be leashed or caged at all times on property
  • Upon check-in, a welcome gift basket with amenities for the pet should be provided
  • A pet concierge map should be in the gift basket. This would include pet friendly restaurants, dog parks, pet sitters, grooming services, and vets
  • There should be three types of charges for pets: a deposit, nightly fee, and cleaning fee
  • A deep clean followed by an ozone machine should be conducted upon check-out from a guest room
  • There should be a limit of two pets per guestroom. There should be a maximum weight limit of the pet. 40lbs-80lbs is a normal range for the top end of weight
  • Pet policies should be standardized brand-wide as much as possible
  • All rules should be printed and legible for employees. All employees should be trained and their training should be documented with them initializing their training upon completion
  • A noise policy must be instituted. The noise policy should be that if the property receives 2+ complaints then alternate arrangements must be made for the pet (i.e. off-property, the pet is no longer welcome)
  • All rooms should be checked at the micro level for damages
Best practices for hotel/guest agreements should include these components

Each hotel should also have a pet agreement that is signed by the guest. The pet agreement should outline the hotel’s and the guest’s responsibilities. These are best practices in pet policy agreements (i.e. what the agreement should contain at a minimum):

  • Outline the three types of fees associated with a pet’s stay
  • Housekeeping/engineering/maintenance policy regarding entering the room
  • Pet weight limits
  • Insurance and local regulations regarding pets
  • Leash and crate controls
  • Areas of the hotel where the pet can be
  • Clean-up responsibilities (e.g. defecation)
  • Damages caused including to furnishings and other guests
  • Noise complaint process

Finally, pet owners overwhelmingly consider their pet a member of their family. They are excited to travel with the pet and stay in a hotel. They trust and love their pet and expect the hotel to treat the pet as a member of their family. At a minimum, they appreciate when the pet is accepted as a member of their family. This means wording the pet policy can be of the utmost importance.

The wording needs to include the aforementioned fees and rules, but it should also be written in a fun and accessible manner. For example, writing the policy on colorful paper adds a professional and appreciated touch for guests. Small things, such as a certificate of the hotel stay with the pet’s name, are the type of little thing that lets the pet owner know they and their pet are appreciated. Remembering to think of the pet as a guest, since that is how your paying customer views them, is integral to a successful pet policy that results in enhanced revenue, positive word of mouth marketing, and increased customer loyalty.

ARE WE PREPARED FOR AN INFLUX OF PETS?

I foresee a lack of a pet policy being problematic for some hoteliers in the future. Most of us may only face minor complaints or issues, but some hoteliers will face more major issues. If even one dog bite, allergic reaction, or inconsistency in following the rules takes place at a hotel property could have serious repercussions. Please think about this: we will have an influx of new pet owners who are traveling with pets for the first time. The pets are also traveling for the first time. This may be worrisome since even one malfeasance, no matter how accidental, could be more than a minor issue.

CONCLUSION

Travel is picking up post-COVID. Many new pet owners will be traveling with their new pets. Neither the human nor the pet has been in this situation previously. The downside for travel professionals is that pets in your region, or even on property, creates a risk. Yet, there are opportunities as well. Hoteliers have an opportunity to gain loyal customers and word-of-mouth marketing through effective messaging. They can also minimize risk by having clear pet policy procedures documented with trained staff on the pet policy. 

Dr. Justin Taillon
Dr. Justin Taillon

Professor and Department Head
School of Hospitality & Tourism Management
Highline College

Justin Taillon worked for eight years in the hospitality industry, culminating in an AGM role at a Hilton owned and managed property in Houston, Texas. He then moved into academia, where he began by working toward an MBA at the University of Guelph and a PhD at Texas A&M University. His research focus is market-based socio-cultural conservation; he has completed projects in thirteen countries. He is currently the Global Director for HFTP (Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals) and incoming President of the organization.

REFERENCES

American Veterinary Medical Association. (2014). Human-Animal Bond. Retrieved July 13, 2014, from: https://www.avma.org/kb/resources/reference/human-animal-bond/pages/human-animal-bond-avma.aspx

Billings, G. (2020, May 27). Dog Bite Statistics. Canine Journal. Retrieved February 21, 2021, from: https://www.caninejournal.com/dog-bite-statistics/ 

Coren, S. (2006). The intelligence of dogs: A guide to the thoughts, emotions, and inner lives of our canine companions. Toronto, ON: Simon and Schuster.

Meehan, M. (2011). Determining the characteristics of effective client communication using the client’s perspective, the human-animal bond, and communication accommodation theory. PhD Thesis, School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland.

Ravn, K. (2011, July 11). Pets and your health: The good and the bad. Los Angeles Times, Retrieved September 30, 2015, from: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/18/health/la-he-pets-good-bad-20110718

Taillon, J. (2013). Hotel Pet Policies (Doctoral Dissertation, Texas A&M University). Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation.

Taillon, J., Yun, D., & MacLaurin, T. (2014). Toward Understanding Canadian Hotel Pet Policies: A Multi-Stakeholder Conundrum. TTRA-Canada.

US Travel. (2018). State of American Vacation. US Travel Association. Retrieved March 7, 2021, from: www.ustravel.org/system/files/media_root/document/StateofAmericanVacation

2018.pdf

Wang, H. (2021, February 18). U.S. Travel Tracker January 2021: Hope Amid Continued Hiatus: More than 70% of Americans Intend to Travel in 2021. Retrieved March 7, 2021, from: https://skift.com/2021/02/18/more-than-70-percent-of-americans-intend-to-travel-in-2021-new-skift-research-travel-tracker/#

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