Monday, April 7, 2014

Pets or Not—Vacation Rental Companies Divided What’s an Owner to do?

I’m a Marketing Consultant for a vacation rental company, and few issues in this industry are as polarizing as whether or not to allow pets. Those advocating pets cite loyalty, increased rentals and a broader market in their success stories. Those on the no-pets side are concerned about damages and alienating guests who suffer from allergies and asthma. Both sides have valid points. So what’s an owner to do?

1. Consider your location: Are you in an area frequented by pet-owners wanting to bring their pets? This could include beaches, national parks, areas with walking and hiking trails, locales that cater to pets, etc. If so, you certainly want to consider welcoming them into your rentals.

2. Does your competition allow pets? This has implications on both sides, however. If most of your competitors allow pets, are you losing rentals because you don’t? Or are you picking up most of the renters who don’t want to stay in pet-friendly units? If few owners in your area allow pets, you might just capitalize on an untapped market if you decide to offer pet-travelers a welcomed option.

3. Are your units conducive to pets and pet travelers? Do you have carpet or tile/wood floors? How often are you replacing the carpet currently and would it make sense to upgrade to tile or wood? Are you in an area with a nearby park or grassy area? Do other vacation rental units surround yours or are most neighbors, permanent residents? How do they feel about pets, particularly dogs? The overall pet-friendliness of the area should be taken into consideration since dogs do need a place to walk and potty and may occasionally bark. How will your neighbors react? Will your guests be hassled by others living in the area? These factors are important considerations to your guests’ overall experiences and whether or not they would choose to return.

4. Do you stay in your units with your own pets? If so, you can’t really advertise them as “no pets” to those with allergy and asthma concerns. The same is true of smoking--it needs to either be all or none.

5. Consider your current damage costs. People/kids damage units too. Spilled red wine or colored drinks can stain carpets and furniture. Milk leaves a sour smell on carpet/fabric that is difficult to remove. Crushed cereal and smashed food in sofas and chairs are a frequent issue when children are allowed to eat in front of the television. We’ve never had a pet to smoke, run a golf cart into the side of a building, dent an appliance, punch a hole in a wall, steal, host a party, play loud music, get drunk, etc. As an owner, you already have to spend money for damages caused by humans. With a hard-surface floor and appropriate furnishings, you may find that pet-owners cost you less than many of your current guests. And by charging a reasonable pet fee, you will build a fund that will take care of any situations that might arise.

Whatever side of the pet fence you reside on, it’s hard to ignore the fact that a 2013-2014 survey conducted by THE AMERICAN PET PRODUCTS ASSOCIATION found that 68% of American households contain at least one pet. That translates to 82.5 million homes. And that percentage is up from 56% in 1988, the first year they conducted this survey. Additionally, they reported that Americans spent more than $55 billion on their beloved fur kids in 2013 and are estimated to spend more than $58 billion in 2014. This is definitely a growing market segment and one that deserves serious consideration for the vacation rental industry. Those are big numbers and owners should carefully weigh the risks and rewards. If you decide to offer pet-friendly units, there are several things you can do to protect your investment and maximize your profits.

1. Install hard-surface floors. This will eliminate the need for replacing carpet every few years, which you are probably doing anyway (or should be). But it will also increase the value of your investment. It’s much easier to clean and it reduces the headaches you have with carpeted units.

2. Promote your unit(s) as pet-friendly on your website, social media and VRBO, HOMEAWAY, and other sites where you are listed. This market is very loyal and they communicate with one another. They are grateful to be able to take along their pets, and most are particularly interested in being allowed to return. Renata Circeo-Loudon, owner of Shore Dreams Vacation Rentals has this to say, “Since we began promoting our units as pet-friendly 2 years ago, we have doubled our listings and increased our rental income. Our pet-friendly units average about 30% greater occupancy, resulting in increased rental income. And we haven’t experienced any additional damage costs. In fact, we have more damage from humans than from pets. By charging a nominal fee, we can pay for any damage, deep-cleanings or additional pest control that might be required. By promoting via social media. our spokes dog JAZZ engages our customers and develops loyal relationships on our Shore Dreams Pet Adventures page.

3. Trust your instincts. Using the verbiage “Pets Considered” gives you the latitude to decide for yourself if you feel the guest will be responsible. Ask about size of pets, number of pets, how often the pet has traveled with them, etc. If you don’t have a good feeling about them, don’t allow them to bring a pet. If you’ve been in this business for any length of time, you probably have pretty good “radar.”

4. Charge a refundable security deposit, have guests purchase an insurance policy, or self-insure. These are good policies whether a guest has a pet or not. Some owners/managers prefer a refundable security deposit stating that it gives the guest an incentive to protect your property. Others prefer the insurance route and charge all guests a flat rate. Still others have decided to set aside monies collected via fees to cover any unexpected damage. And you can always utilize a combination, collecting both a fee and a security deposit if you feel uneasy and then waiving it for return customers who have proven themselves to be responsible. Whatever you decide, make sure that you have a way to collect from any guest if they, or their pet, damage your property.

A HOMEAWAY survey reported that 29.1 million Americans traveled with their pet in the past three (3) years. That represents a lot of potential rentals. They also discovered that 41% of people had snuck a pet into their hotel room, either because the hotel was not pet-friendly, their pet was too big, or it was a breed not accepted. So you may be hosting pets without your knowledge and not earning the extra fees from these rentals. Vacation rental companies can’t afford to ignore trends in the hotel industry. Not only are they our competition, but they also conduct ongoing research to refine their brands and improve the bottom-line. So they are a good source of information about the travel industry. Subsequently, many luxury hotel chains are increasingly embracing pets–not just allowing them, but catering to them with amenities that range from pet beds and bowls to special spa services.

Fodor’s reported The 7 Best Pet Friendly Hotel Chains in this 2011 article as: KIMPTON, LOWES, MANDARIN ORIENTAL, “W”, RITZ-CARLTON, HILTON, AND HOTEL INDIGO. Many WESTINS are also pet friendly. If these top-notch, popular hotels allow Fido, perhaps vacation rental owners should take both note and advantage, of their research and consider rolling out the tiled/wood welcome mat for the fur members of our guests’ families.

Deborah J. Thompson is a Marketing Consultant and frequent Contributing Writer and Photographer for FIDO Friendly magazine. She’s a regular traveler with her Maltese JAZZ–the newly elected doggie “Mayor of Atlanta” in the DOGTV nationwide contest, and her spunky rescue Yorkie, Sophie Rose. You can “bark” with Jazz and Sophie Rose at or share travel stories at