Thursday, January 24, 2013

Go Pet Friendly for More Bookings? A Vacation Rental Owner's Dilemma

Fido wants to go on vacation too ...



A prospective renter called the other day looking for a large beach house that was pet friendly. He lamented how tough it was to find pet friendly vacation rentals with his basic requirements -- sleeps 6 and on the beach. Not overly demanding, to say the least. We were able to provide him with options, but the interesting point was that this was someone who was more than willing to stay in a vacation rental. He knew the advantages vacation rentals offer, but he couldn't find a pet friendly option in his desired location.

While whether or not to open up your vacation rental to pets is entirely your decision, here are some things to consider if you currently don't allow pets:

SmartMoney.com reports that even while the economy was tanking and pet ownership remained flat, spending on pets rose 73%, to $51 billion.  Pets are like family to a group of people willing to spend money on them. They often don't have kids and are intensely loyal to their furry best friends. Many baby boomers who once traveled with their children are now taking beloved pets along for the ride instead. Some pets have specialized health needs that makes kenneling or boarding with friends impossible or just not desirable.

On top of the money they're willing to spend and the loyalty they feel, PetRelocation.com predicted that nearly half of pet owners would travel with their pets in 2012.  And 90% said they'd change their travel plans to accommodate their pets. In a survey by AAA and Best Western, 75% of traveling pet owners said they would take their pet on every vacation, if they could.

If you're not currently accepting pets, it's definitely an untapped marketing opportunity, especially if your property is pet friendly. For example, if your yard is fenced, or if you're near a park that's perfect for dogs, you could use those features as important selling points. One vacation rental owner reports a 30% increase in bookings for taking pets (that will certainly pay for a couple of carpet steam cleanings!). Of course, your concerns about damage are worth taking seriously--but there are steps you can take to protect your property while booking more weeks to people who travel with pets. Here are some things to consider:

Damage deposits. Some vacation rental owners who rent to owners with pets include a standard pet damage deposit fee which is collected regardless of whether there's damage or not. Others treat it as a true deposit, which is refunded after a visual inspection when the guest departs.

Charge the pet as additional guest. This is a bit of a twist on the damage deposit. You could increase your nightly rate when pets are present.

Establish and enforce rules. In your renter's contract, specify that dogs must be on a flea preventative, be fully housebroken, under control in the house at all times and on a leash while outside, and that all waste must be picked up. The vast majority of pet owners who travel with their pets are going to adhere to these rules anyway. They want a pleasant experience with their pet more than you do.

The key to rules is to clearly communicate them to the guest before the contract is signed and to review the rules upon arrival. 

Keep in mind that whether you allow pets or not, you're going to be performing a thorough housecleaning anyway. You might just add in a couple of extra steam cleanings of the carpet, just to catch anything that might have been missed on your visual inspection upon check out.

A pet friendly policy is also something you could check out for a year if you rent just one property, or on a couple of locations if you rent multiple properties. Given the increased competition vacation rentals are getting not just from other vacation rentals but also hotels and resorts, going pet friendly might just be a great competitive edge for you in 2013.