Every Dog Has Its Holi-day: The Rise of Pet Travelers

Every Dog Has Its Holi-day: The Rise of Pet Travelers
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Why you should care

Because traveling with four-legged family members is getting easier.

At first, I never meant to travel with my dog, Ruby, a white-and-brown shih tzu, who I got in 2013 when I was moving to Los Angeles. I was hoping she would force me — a globe-trotting travel writer — to focus on writing more locally.

But traveling with Ruby has gotten only easier every passing month. She has visited New York City, Denver, Puerto Rico, Los Cabos, San Diego, San Francisco, Baltimore, Santa Fe, Sedona, Cancún, Miami, Key West — the list goes on. Traveling since she was 4 weeks old, Ruby — who has an Instagram account — has gotten accustomed to little jaunts, furiously wagging her tail every time I bring out my suitcase. That’s been made possible by a dramatic shift in attitude within the travel industry.

Ruby isn’t alone. According to the 2017–2018 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 68 percent of U.S. households (or 85 million families) own a pet (89 million dogs, in particular), an increase of 56 percent since 1988. About 37 percent of pet owners travel with their pets every year, up from 19 percent a decade ago. And more and more travel companies are bowing to that growing demand.

We were seeing it as a nationwide trend.

Lisa Marshall, Wisconsin Department of Tourism

JetBlue first welcomed travelers with pets through its JetPaws program launched in 2008, offering fewer restrictions, accessories like TSA-approved carrier bags, extra frequent-flyer points and even the ability to book pets online. But now, airlines across the country have slackened restrictions for in-cabin pets, many launching pet programs like Virgin America’s Flying Paws. Delta, Southwest and United have dropped their requirement to book pets over the phone.

Hotel chains like Ritz-Carlton, Aloft, Viceroy Hotel Group, Hotel Indigo, Ace Hotel, Best Western, Loews, Virgin Hotels and Four Seasons have joined Kimpton Hotels — pioneers who have run pet-friendly hotels since 1981 — in welcoming four-legged guests, with a range of facilities and treats. Even governments are responding. Since January 2015, the Department of Transportation has required every airline to report the loss, injury or death of an animal during transport, pointing to a growing emphasis on onboard safety — while Wisconsin is advertising itself as pet-friendly in order to draw tourists.

“We were seeing it as a nationwide trend,” says Lisa Marshall, communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. “Personally, I think the pet-friendly travel trend reflects a bigger trend in pet ownership and how dogs are treated like family members.”

The demand is hard to ignore for businesses. Consider TripAdvisor’s “traveling with pets” survey, in which 53 percent of 1,000 respondents said they travel with pets, and 52 percent said they would stay only at pet-friendly locations — no business wants to alienate customers. Travel Wisconsin’s 2016 TV ad followed a family and their two dogs playing on the shores of Lake Superior in Bayfield.

Many major U.S. airports — like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Houston International Airport — are now offering pet relief areas and facilities inside the terminal. Even Amtrak, a notoriously un-pet-friendly rail network that’s allowed only service animals in decades past, is changing. In October 2015, Amtrak tested a pets-on-board pilot program, which turned out to be successful. Amtrak signed the Pets on Trains Act of 2015, and it now allows pets up to 20 pounds on most routes up to seven hours (though they must be in a pet carrier and booked only in coach class). More than 2,700 pets had traveled with Amtrak along the Northeast Corridor by February 2016, an average of 675 pets a month. And newer planes introduced in the past decade have made it possible for travelers to bring pets on board — many aircraft pre-2005 did not have seats where pet carriers could fit underneath.

There’s big money involved. Most airlines charge between $100–$150 per pet for a one-way flight, and hotels can charge up to $200 per stay for an in-house pet. Amenities vary at every hotel (some offer pet massages, in-room dining menus for dogs and pet itineraries). The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park, offers branded dog liver treats and is, obviously, in front of Central Park, which is added incentive for a traveler with a pet to stay there. The new Viceroy Chicago has both a Pets Are Welcome program and a partnership with Orphans of the Storm, a local nonprofit that rescues orphaned dogs for adoption. An army of door staff equipped with treats greets guests. And staff take pets out for walks when the guest is away.

But a love of pets also drives some businesses. Bill Kimpton, the founder of Kimpton Hotels, had a miniature collie. The chain believes pets are part of the family (there is no pet fee) and has a simple policy: If they can fit through the hotel doors, they’re welcome. Kimpton also provides water bowls, treats, pet beds and toys, all for free. “As of today, we have over a quarter-million loyalty guests who have registered a pet with us,” says Nick Gregory, senior vice president of hotel operations at Kimpton Hotels.

For many travelers, the costs of traveling with pets are in any case far outweighed by the benefits. New York–based club owner Daniel Nardicio frequently travels for work and pleasure, and in 2015, he got a companion: Butterball, a 12-pound Pomeranian. Given his frequent travels, he admits he never would have gotten Butterball if pets weren’t already widely accepted. Butterball’s jaunts already have included New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles. “People don’t know, but you can pretty much go anywhere with a pet now,” Nardicio says.

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