As it was National Dog Day recently and it's the Chinese Year of the Dog, we thought we'd take a look at how the travel industry is reacting to the recent rise in holidaying with our four-legged friends.

In the UK 25% of families own a dog and last year approximately £4.62 billion was spent by owners on dogs alone, with two thirds of them saying that they regard their pets as part of the family.  Global spending on pets is projected to surpass £66bn by 2019 so it's no surprise that the demand for pet-friendly holidays has been on the rise in recent years.  

Research from American Express tells us that just over a quarter (27%) of UK dog owners are expected to take their dogs on holiday during 2018, and spend £227 million on the privilege! It's not difficult to work out that pet tourism could be worth millions to tourism economies. 

Of those dogs packing their suitcases during 2018, research showed that over a third (36 per cent) opted for a traditional family holiday, 31 per cent set off on a walking or hiking trip, and a sun-loving 27 per cent headed for the beach.

In February this year leading dog-friendly holiday company, Pets Pyjamas announced ambitious plans to expand into Europe following the 100% year on year rise in pet-friendly property enquiries since 2014.  The Sykes Staycation Index, released in May 2018, reports that the three most popular holiday home types searched for in 2017 were 'Luxury', 'Beach and Coastal' and 'Dog Friendly' and the company experienced the biggest increase in pet friendly bookings between 2016 and 2017.

There's lots of benefits to be gained for DMOs who opt to promote their destinations as dog friendly.  Firstly, dog owners have been found to be generally less price sensitive. Research has shown that pet owners are willing to stretch their budgets to find something suitable for their dogs (it's 7 times cheaper to take a dog on holiday than leave it in a kennels) so there's real potential for destinations to make it as easy as possible.  Being dog friendly can also help to attract visitors outside of the busy peak season and also boost bookings for the short breaks market.  Guests with dogs can be high repeat visitors and are quick to make recommendations to others.  Also, it's not all about tourists as there's revenue generating opportunities from local residents who own dogs too.

It's been suggested that British hotels could increase their revenues by 30% if they allowed dogs.  Not only are they gaining access to a lucrative new market in terms of accommodation, but dog owners often eat and drink on site so there's a further boost to potential income.  

Many of our destinations are blessed with beautiful countryside and beaches which are always a major attraction for owners and their dogs.  In the UK alone, there's 500 dog-friendly beaches and a growing number of dog-friendly accommodation options. However, pet tourism isn't just limited to rural destinations.  Our city destinations have plenty to offer our furry friends too.

So what do destinations need to do to entice dog lovers:

  • Include comprehensive information on pet friendly parks, green spaces and beaches (including when restrictions are in place)
  • Include listings on pet friendly pubs, cafes and restaurants and invite advertising from relevant tourism businesses
  • Encourage accommodation providers to provide welcome packs e.g. dog bowl, towel and treats
  • Feature dog-friendly walks (ideally walks of differing levels and preferably without stiles for older dogs)
  • Use social media to promote dog friendly hotels, attractions and activities and encourage owners to share pictures of their dogs via competitions e.g. photography, win a dog-friendly break etc
  • Form partnerships with local pet businesses and offer online advertising opportunities
  • Create dedicated ‘dogs welcome' site content and support with a launch campaign backed up by press, TV advertising etc. 
  • Target dog related keywords within SEO and Adwords campaigns
  • Feature a regular blog from owners sharing their experiences on walks, meals or attractions visited with their dogs
  • Include a dog blog (from the dog's perspective) using story-telling style content and inspirational imagery to demonstrate in-destination doggy experiences
  • Include suggested itineraries with a combination of walks, places to stop for refreshments, attractions etc.

It's great to see that many of our DMOs are already enticing dog owners to their destinations with dedicated initiatives. Visit Dorset provides inspiration for dog owners whether it be places to stay or eat, dog friendly attractions, beaches and the great Dylan's Dorset, a blog featuring Dylan's adventures from a dog's view.  Visit South Devon also has a blog on its own site and has teamed up with Doggy Devon, a destination site devoted to promoting places to eat, drink, stay and play.  Visit Harrogate aims to help owners and their faithful friends to find the perfect place to stay and explore their surroundings on one of a range of carefully selected dog friendly walks.  Dog Friendly Durham is a great resource for accommodation, events and places to eat and drink.   Visit Isle of Wight features dog friendly beaches, walking, accommodation, days out and travel tips and a blog.  Visitors wondering what to do with their dog in the New Forest get plenty of inspiration from their dedicated page too.  

There's no sign in the growth of dog-friendly holidays slowing down so our DMOs would be barking mad not to take advantage if they're not already.
 

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