Pandemic pet boom sparks business opportunities

More than half of all travelers – 52% – base their travel plans on accommodating their pets, according to a report released in May by RV camping company Harvest Hosts. Millennials are most likely to be swayed by their pets (56%) than other generations, and more than one-third of all travelers (37%) deemed pet-friendly accommodation to be a travel must-have.

Harvest Hosts’ report comes with summer travel season about to kick off and two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated pet boom. During COVID, 23 million American households adopted pets to help cope with quarantine. The vast majority of these households still have that pet – 90% for dogs and 85% for cats – according to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, leaving some 20 million households to consider the needs of Fido, Rufus or Spot whenever they’re looking to get away.

“Pets are family members, and after spending so much quality time with them at home over the last two years, vacationers don’t want to leave their pets behind—making pet-friendly options more appealing than ever,” said Harvest Hosts’ CEO Joel Holland.

BringFido, a website that allows users to search for pet-friendly restaurants and lodging in towns around the world, has been especially busy. In 2021, the site had 15 million users and 50 million pageviews. The site had 12 million users in 2018, and in 2016, it had just over 9 million.

Dog in car

More than half of all travelers – 52% – base their travel plans on accommodating their pets, according to RV camping company Harvest Hosts. – PEXELS

In New Jersey, there are 247 pet-friendly hotels, not counting campgrounds and vacation rentals, with 78 receiving 4 or 5 bones – their version of stars – in BringFido’s rating system. Of the more than 1,300 New Jersey restaurants listed on BringFido, 290 have received a 4 or 5 bone rating—making pets just as welcome as people.

When the destination isn’t pet friendly, the pets get their own destination. For many, gone are the days when Rufus hangs back home and the neighbor comes in to put food in the bowl and take him for walks. Across New Jersey and America are hundreds of pet resorts and hotels, boutique places for pets to stay in style while mom and dad are out of town.

Boy, do they stay in style. K9 Resorts, a 75-location chain of pet hotels headquartered in Fanwood where people pay on average $50 to $89 per night for their dogs to sleep, eat and play, whips up its own homemade ice cream for puppies to cool down on hot days. K9 Resorts also offers a premium bed upgrade for $10 a night where dogs can sprawl out on a faux leather sofa and memory foam luxury bedding.

K9 Resorts CEO and co-founder Jason Parker told NJBIZ that he’s seen an increase in demand for the business’s services over the last 12 months, attributing the increase to new pandemic-era pet parents finally being ready to travel—but still keeping Rufus top- of-mind.

Continued growth

BringFido’s vacation rental and hotel bookings component grew by 140% and 55%, respectively, in the second quarter of 2021 compared with the same period in 2019, and the average booking value and length of stay also saw double-digit percentage growth in the time frame, according to BringFido Destinations Editor Erin Ballinger. The growth has continued in 2022.

“Traveling with dogs and hotels and other services being more accommodating to pets was a trend that was already taking place pre-pandemic, but COVID-19 has accelerated it. It’s hard to say how many years ahead it’s pushed us, but I would say it’s multiple years,” Ballinger shared. “Because of the rise of vacation rental companies, there are more pet-friendly lodging options than ever. Hotels in the leisure space are competing with rentals head-on for these customers, and it’s a very compelling product. Increasingly, you have to welcome pets to get that leisure customer. Accordingly, hotels are converting to pet-friendly, and those that already were are offering special incentives to dog owners.”

Dog in car

Pet owners may find that traveling to a pet-friendly hotel by vehicle is easier than flying with Fido. – PEXELS

Holland, whose company has also benefited from a pandemic uptick in RV sales and the appeal of life on the road (nearly 60% fantasize about it, especially millennials – 65% – and Gen Z – 63% – according to the May report), Caters to folks keen on traveling with their pets as flying with animals has gotten more challenging.

The biggest challenge in planning a pet-friendly vacation is the flight. Airlines allow a limited number of pets on a plane, so if the dog’s got to come, the flight is chosen based on which one has the room, explained Long Branch travel agency Excel Travel President Ted Friedli. Finding a pet-friendly hotel is easier, though which pet-friendly hotel is best depends on the length of time someone’s planning to stay. If it’s just an overnight, any hotel with grass outside will do. If it’s a weeklong trip, there better be a place to walk the dog nearby, Friedli said.

Additionally, several airlines have changed their policies regarding emotional support animals in recent years, and some have increased their pet fees.

“As a result, alternative modes of travel like RVing and road trips are proving more popular, as pets can easily tag along. And travelers are seeking pet-friendly accommodations along the way … Unwilling to leave their pets behind, we’re anticipating a summer of pet-friendly outdoor excursions, camping and more pit stops along the way,” said Holland.

Friedli suggests that the reason more people take their pets on vacation is because they’re traveling more domestically than internationally. “That’s the change we see in the office,” he said. “They want to travel but they’re not willing to travel overseas yet or on cruise, or it’s a much shorter flight or it’s a drive, so it’s more conducive to bringing their pets. I’m not sure what came first – ‘let’s stay locally, and therefore bring our pets’ or ‘let’s bring our pets, and therefore stay local.’”

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