Hotels holding open the doggy door for guests' furry friends

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T0906SURFJACKHOTELDOG2_C_HR [Credit: Courtesy of The Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club]
The Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club in Waikiki loosened its pet policies after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The general manager's pandemic pup, Jack the bulldog, serves as the hotel's mascot. Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club

The Covid-19 pandemic boosted an already growing trend of dog owners traveling with their pooches, and hotels are stepping up with lenient policies and extra amenities to entice guests who don't want to part with their canines.

The pandemic stirred up just the right recipe to spur increased travel with pets, according to Jason Halliburton of pet travel and lifestyle website BringFido.com, starting with the puppy adoption boom during the initial weeks of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in spring 2020. An ASPCA survey released this May found one in five respondents had acquired a dog or cat during the pandemic. 

Additionally, Covid-19 compelled a decline in the types of travel most challenging with pets and an increase in more accommodating types of travel such as roadtrips, either by car or recreational vehicle. Halliburton also pointed to the new work-from-home flexibility that has many people taking longer trips and workcations where they are more inclined to bring the family dog along.

"We've observed a really favorable trend line for us," Halliburton said for BringFido's hotel bookings and other services. "After the initial phase of shutdown, we've been extremely busy."

BringFido's vacation rental and hotel bookings grew by 140% and 55%, respectively, in the second quarter of 2021 compared with the same period in 2019, according to Halliburton, and the average booking value and length of stay also saw double-digit percentage growth in the time frame.

"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," Halliburton said. "It's hard to say how many years ahead it's pushed us, but I would say it's multiple years.

"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. 

Earlier this year, Encore at Wynn Las Vegas and Hard Rock Hotels both announced they were going pet-friendly with a menu of extra amenities for dogs.

In Waikiki, Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club general manager Lynette Eastman pivoted to an extremely pet-friendly policy in order to keep rooms occupied during the early months of lockdown when inbound travel to Hawaii nearly ceased, and she does not see any going back. 

Eastman did away with weight limits and the pet fee and also started accepting other animals like cats and rabbits. She attributes the change to helping keep business up during the first months of the pandemic when the hotel was hosting quarantining travelers on essential business and military transfers and providing a competitive advantage in 2021 as more regular travelers returned. 

The influx of four-legged visitors has increased the cleaning load, and Eastman said it takes 24 hours to turn around rooms that had pets.

But, she added, "in this time of the Covid pandemic, the extra cleaning is probably a good thing all around."

Eastman got a pandemic puppy herself. Jack, a French and English bulldog mix, now serves as the hotel mascot and a playmate for the other canine guests.

"You, me, nothing is ever going to be the same as it was in January 2020," she said. "I foresee the pet-friendly policies and trend continuing at hotels. Families are not going to want to leave their furry family members behind."

The InterContinental New York Barclay welcomed its own dog, Bowie, this summer, and general manager Sofia Vandaele said they have seen an uptick in guests checking in with dogs this year. The hotel ran a Pooch Package promotion during the summer that waived the pet fee while offering upgraded accommodations and special pet treats. 

"I believe pet-friendly accommodations will continue to grow," Vandaele said. "Pets are often an added member of the family, and I think it is hard for people to leave them behind on occasion.

"In addition to pet-friendly hotels, I think we will also begin seeing more pet-friendly workplaces, restaurants and stores." 

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