Pets or Not: Vacation Rental Companies Divided
When it comes to making a property pet-friendly, what's an owner to do? Here's how vacation rental managers can help owners decide.
I’m a vacation rental marketing consultant and few issues in this industry are as polarizing as pets. “Pro-pets” cite loyalty, increased rentals and a broader market.
“No-pets” are concerned about damages and alienating guests with allergies/asthma. Both sides have valid points–so what’s an owner to do?
With pros and cons for both options, here are tips you can use when speaking with owners to help them decide whether their property should be pet-friendly.
- Consider location: Is it frequented by travelers with pets–beaches, state/national parks, walking/hiking trails? If so, you should consider welcoming them into your rentals.
- Does your competition allow pets? There are two considerations–are you losing rentals by not doing so? Or picking up renters who won’t stay in pet-friendly units? If your competition doesn’t allow pets, you may capitalize on an untapped market by offering pet-travelers a welcomed option.
- Are your units conducive to pets? Are the floors carpeted or tile/wood? How often are you replacing carpets–would it make sense to upgrade to hard-surface? Is there a nearby park/grassy area? Are there lots of permanent residents? How do they feel about pets? The overall pet-friendliness of the area is important since dogs need a place to walk/potty, and may occasionally bark. Will your guests be hassled by the neighbors? These are crucial to the overall experience and whether or not guests will return.
- Do you stay in your units with your own pets? If so, you can’t really advertise them as “no pets” because of allergy and asthma concerns. The same is true of smoking--it needs to be all or none.
- Consider current damage costs. People/kids damage units too. Wine stains. Milk leaves a sour smell. Smashed food in sofas is a frequent issue when children eat in front of the television. It was humans–not pets–in my client’s units that stole, smoked, ran a golf cart into a building, dented an appliance, punched a hole in a wall, partied, etc. We already spend money for damages by humans. With a hard-surface floor and appropriate furnishings, pet-travelers may cost you less than many of your current guests. And by charging a reasonable fee, you can build a fund to handle any situations.
Whatever side of the pet fence you’re on, it’s hard to ignore The American Pet Products Association’s 2013-2014 survey reporting 68% of American households containing at least one pet. That’s 82.5 million homes. Additionally, they spent more than $55 billion on their 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. Those are big numbers and owners should carefully weigh the risks and rewards.
If your owners decide to be pet-friendly, there are several ways to protect their investment and maximize profits.
- Install hard-surface floors. Eliminate replacing carpet every few years and increase the value of your investment. Wood/tile is easier to clean and reduces the headaches of carpets.
- Promote pet-friendly via websites and social media. The pet-travel market is loyal and they communicate with one another. They are grateful and particularly interested in being allowed to return. Renata Circeo-Loudon, owner of Shore Dreams Vacation Rentals, says: “Since we began promoting our units as pet-friendly two years ago, we have doubled listings and increased rental income. Our pet-friendly units average about 30% greater occupancy. And we haven’t experienced any additional damage costs. In fact, we have more damage from humans than pets. By charging a nominal fee, we pay for any damage, deep-cleanings or additional pest control that might be required. By promoting via social media. our spokes dog JAZZ, engages customers and develops loyal relationships on our Shore Dreams Pet Adventures page."
- Trust your instincts. Use the verbiage “Pets Considered.” Ask about size, number, how often the pet has traveled, etc. If you don’t have a good feeling, don’t allow them to bring a pet. With experience, you develop pretty good “radar.”
- Charge a refundable deposit, insurance policy, or self-insure–all good policies whether a guest has a pet or not. Some owners/managers prefer a refundable deposit believing it gives the guest incentive to protect property. Others prefer insurance, charging all guests a flat rate. Still others set aside monies collected via fees to cover unexpected damage. You can waive fees/deposits for return customers who have proven themselves responsible.
HomeAway reported that 29.1 million Americans traveled with their pet in the past three years. That’s a lot of potential rentals. And 41% admitted sneaking a pet into their room, either because it wasn’t pet-friendly, their pet was too big, or was an unacceptable breed. You may be hosting pets without your knowledge and not earning the extra fees from these rentals.
We can’t afford to ignore trends in the hotel industry. Not only are they our competition, but they also conduct research to refine their brands and improve the bottom-line, providing us with important industry information. Many luxury chains are targeting pet-travelers, offering amenities ranging from pet beds/bowls, to spa services. Fodor’s reported in 2011, The 7 Best Pet Friendly Hotel Chains as: Kimpton, Lowes, Mandarin Oriental, “W,” Ritz-Carlton, Hilton, and Hotel Indigo. Many Westins are also pet-friendly.
If these top-tier 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.