37 – Marketing Your Pet-Friendly Hotel

by | November 13, 2019 | Suite Spot: Hotel Marketing Podcast

In this episode of the Suite Spot, we talk about a different type of guest at your hotel: pets. Host Ryan Embree is joined by Director of Marketing and pet lover Anne Sandoval to talk creative ways to market your pet-friendly hotel to travelers.

In the What’s News segment, Ryan shares some incredible statistics from a Booking.com report about pets and the hotel industry. Ryan and Anne also look at a New York Times article sharing stories of unique ways hotels are implementing pet-friendliness in their everyday operations. They also share tips on small pet-friendly changes that can be made at your hotel. Learn how to impress pet owners and create special moments for your furry guests at your property.

If you are a pet-friendly hotel and need help with your property’s digital marketing or have a question for us, call or text 407-984-7455.

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Episode Transcript
Our podcast is produced as an audio resource. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human editing and may contain errors. Before republishing quotes, we ask that you reference the audio.

Ryan Embree: Welcome to Suite Spot, where hoteliers check-in and we check out what's trending in hotel marketing. I'm your host, Ryan Embree. Thank you for listening. In today's episode we are going to be talking about a different type of guests at your property - pets. We know how important our pets are to us and to our guests. We're going to be speaking to some statistics that say just how important they are. Being a pet friendly hotel has its own challenges but also some really great opportunities to market yourself as a pet friendly hotel. So with me today, I have our Director of Marketing, she's been a guest on the Suite Spot many a time, also a pet owner herself, Anne Sandoval. Welcome back to the sweet spot Anne.

Anne Sandoval: Thanks Ryan, I'm especially excited to be here for this episode. Our listeners can't tell, but you can tell I'm wearing my French bulldog shirt today in honor of this topic, so very excited.

Ryan Embree: I love it and you know we at the Suite Spot, we're almost 40 episodes in and we talk about all types of different hotels. We talk about franchise, independent, bed and breakfast hotels, but one of the topics that we haven't yet covered are pet friendly hotels and that pet friendly tag could really fall under any of those categories. So I found this specifically very interesting in our What's News segment of today's episode was a graphic that Booking.com had just released called, "Travel Predictions 2020" so they did a survey of future travelers and kind of looking towards the future on what might be the next big thing. That's what we're always looking for in this industry. And they found some pretty interesting statistics surrounding pets when it comes to lodging and the hotel industry. So I'm going to go ahead and share a couple of those: 55% of global pet owners, so more than half are saying that their pet is as important to them as their children. 42% agree that they would choose a holiday destination based on whether they could take their pet, which is incredible statistic when we're talking about when we're looking for travelers to come into our area or choose our location, that is incredibly important to keep that in mind, and finally when we're talking about revenue for a hotel - 49% of guests are willing to pay more to stay at an accommodation for a pet friendly hotel, which I think that we've come as pet owners - I think that we've probably become accustomed with in the hotel industry having to pay some sort of pet deposit or fee for having our pet with us during a hotel stay, but this is an extremely important, again for hoteliers to know when it comes to how we can gain extra revenue.

Anne Sandoval: That's so true Ryan and I think what's really interesting about that 49% of travelers who are pet owners being willing to pay more to bring their pets with them. It actually makes a lot of sense to me because the cost of boarding your dog or hiring a pet sitter is pretty significant and as someone who owns two dogs myself, it's something that really plays a role in our vacation planning and budgeting. Coupling that with the idea that most owners think of their pet as important to them as their children. They might actually be uncomfortable in some situations leaving their pet behind in an unfamiliar location or with a stranger. So for some travelers paying our pet fee at a hotel is definitely a better option. They get to keep their best friend with them and in some cases it's even more cost effective than boarding.

Ryan Embree: I agree and there is a correlation between that. Obviously if these guests are viewing these pets as, you know, as important as their children, they want to have the peace of mind knowing that pet is taken care of. And I think another thing that is important to know at this time, especially for the hotel industry specifically, is we are constantly in a battle, especially these past few years, with vacation rental homes like Airbnb. These Airbnb accommodations are very, very pet friendly in some cases. Being a pet friendly hotel is another way to be competitive against vacation rental homes like Airbnb or VRBO.

Anne Sandoval: Well I know as a hotel owner and operator, it may be a little concerning if you're not a pet friendly hotel now. There are a lot of things to consider if you're thinking about becoming a pet friendly hotel, a lot of logistics and implementing the pet fees and understanding what implications it will have for your housekeeping and your maintenance. But with statistics like this, it really is the type of amenity that could be the difference between someone choosing your hotel or your competition.

Ryan Embree: Oh, absolutely. And today we're going to go over some examples if you are a pet friendly hotel listening to this podcast on how to really take it to the next level. Or if you're in a position right now where you are deciding to make that change, these could be some helpful tips. But before we move into that in kind of the Suite Spot of our episode, I wanted to continue with some examples of how hotels are getting really, really creative when it comes to these pets. There was recently a New York times article, which referenced an Aloft property in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. I'll quote from the article here that says, "The hotel teamed up with Charlie's Angels Animal Rescue in Fletcher North Carolina taking in one dog and housing him or her in the state of the art doghouse just adjacent to the hotel's check-in desk. Guests are encouraged to take the dog for a walk, hang out, play, cuddle, and after signing a waiver, should they decide to adopt, hotel staff helps manage those logistics. So in Asheville right now, there's been more than 130 dogs that have found homes through this process in Greenville, which has also placed 90 dogs so far." So two examples there of two specific properties, doing this kind of adopt-a-dog for a night or adoption implemented in their guest experience and it's kind of a win win situation for both, right? Look at these hotels now getting this national notoriety with the New York times article. Also being able to adopt some dogs. So this is a really, really creative way of implementing kind of pet friendliness to the hotel.

Anne Sandoval: I totally agree. I think it's such a smart program to implement. Not only does it help these rescue pets find homes and provide some comfort to your guests who may be missing their furry friend at home already. It also helps the local community and the public relations opportunity here for your hotel is really great since - and clearly - since this one was covered by the New York Times. But if you're considering doing an event like this or a partnership like this, I think a longterm partnership is going to be the most effective for your public relations because it shows commitment. It also humanizes the hotel in a way that few other programs could because it creates this emotional connection with your guests and with travelers. Even people who have never stayed at your hotel are going to think highly or fondly of your property after reading an article like this about this program. Also with pet photos being some of the most popular on Facebook and Instagram, this program would potentially be paying for itself in terms of your hotels ability to grow their online audience and encourage future bookings. If you think about, you know, once a week posting a picture, introducing the rescue dog that's with you at the time, it could have some really great benefits for your hotel property.

Ryan Embree: Absolutely, so much online reach and, you know, us at Travel Media Group being digital marketing experts, you know, that's where our minds go to, is we know how can we use this program to extend our online reach on social media platforms? How can we, like you said - I love that term "humanizing the hotel" - so we can help that property's reputation, not just locally, but in this case, you know, nationally. So very, very unique program there in North Carolina that they are doing. The second program that I wanted to kinda talk to is a little bit on a smaller scale, but I think just as effective, La Quinta according to Lodging Magazine, "La Quinta is encouraging its guests to take a breather with it's new, take a pause project." The timing on this is absolutely perfect. They're doing it on November 20th, which is the busiest day of the year for travel. "So at select La Quinta hotels in New York city and Chicago, they're going to be offering travelers access to special amenities including weighted blankets for anxiety-free sleep, endorphin producing fitness and meditation classes, and a special pet therapy session in the lobby where they can experience the naturally relaxing influence of furry friends." So instead of full time having a kind of dog there and that partnership with the shelter, they're just having a pet therapy session in the lobby, but I think a program like this goes such a long way for making those unique experiences that travelers are always on the lookout for today and almost sometimes expect.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, I think this is a really cool idea for La Quinta to take part in. You know, studies show that petting a dog can help decrease stress, so it fits perfectly with their whole "take a pause" concept. And it's interesting, I experienced something similar last year at the Dreamforce conference in the middle of a totally chaotic conference with thousands of people milling about, they have a pet rescue station. So even taking a 10 minute break to meet some rescue dogs was able to decrease my stress level, put a smile on my face, and I think that's a great thing to do for La Quinta to do for business travelers on this super busy travel day.

Ryan Embree: Oh Absolutely. I remember being in school and doing the same thing during those stressful finals week going to, you know, a local shelter and just kind of easing the tension and easing the stress with some of those puppies that were out there. So very, very creative project. Again, these are probably some extreme situations of what we can do as a pet friendly hotel. So today, like we've done in episodes, we're going to give you some tips on maybe just go the first and second step instead of a, you know, going these leaps and bounds because that's what it's all about. You know, at the Suite Spot, we want to encourage our listeners to just take maybe that first or second step because a lot of these tips that we have today, they don't require a lot of time, they don't require a lot of investment, but they can pay big dividends when it comes to your hotel. So let's go ahead and start with something super simple and we're going to talk really from the reputation management standpoint. We're always trying to make a guest experience feel unique and feel special, right? Because it's usually those unique and special moments that translate from that traveler at the front desk telling you how good their stay was to all of a sudden that being on TripAdvisor or Google or another online review site and influencing more travelers to come to your hotel. So we're always looking for that. So why not, you know, do something super simple where you leave a bowl of treats at the front desk. Again, just trying to create that special moment when you see a traveler with a pet come in.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, I've never seen a happier dog then one excited to meet someone new and accept a treat from them. So I think that's a special way to make them feel welcome at the front desk. And I think because we know that owners feel about their pets the way they do about their children, introducing yourself to the pet, asking the pets name, that's going to go a long way in making them feel like you feel the same way about their pet. That their pet is just as important of a guest as you are to them. And by making a note at the desk such as the, "Hey, the golden retriever from 163 is named Henry." Then Henry and his owner will feel really special whenever they enter the lobby and you can welcome them by name.

Ryan Embree: And being in the hotel industry in the hospitality industry, we are always looking for opportunities to connect with our guests, like you said Anne as something as simple as just remembering that pet's name can go a long way. Another tip that you can do at the property, which again is just a small little change, providing maybe bowls or dog toys for sale at the property for maybe someone that's traveling that perhaps forgot to bring a dog bowl. Having that opportunity for them, you know, to purchase something there at the property can again go a long way. As well as providing pickup bags, which we know is very important to a pet owner but also for the cleanliness of the hotel. We need to make sure, so having, you know, complimentary pickup bags at the front desk as well.

Anne Sandoval: I totally agree and even having leashes to borrow at the front desk that you can take in and out, in case a guest forgot theirs, could be a helpful option for pet owners. And in dog friendly cities, I also see a lot of hotels and restaurants place a water bowl on the sidewalk for thirsty dogs to rehydrate. And that's also a way of just signaling to your community and to the people walking by like this is a pet friendly place and we welcome them.

Ryan Embree: Yeah, those visual cues are big and will stick with you, you know, subconsciously. I think another thing to do, and this is more of just accommodation for your guests, is asking if they have a preference of being on the ground floor. We know when you have a pet you sometimes have to take quite a few potty breaks, from time to time, so asking your guests, you know, "Would it be more accommodating for you to be on the ground floor so it's easier for you and your pet to get in and out." Being empathetic towards those pet owners, again, I think goes a long way. And then also what we want to do is make sure that our staff is trained in every sense of service animal policy. We've heard those PR horror stories of businesses that weren't well educated on service animal policies and we do not want a situation like that to go viral about your business or hotel. So make sure even if you're not a pet friendly hotel that you're very, very aware of those service animal policies, because you don't want that to, no pun intended, come back to bite you. And then some more creative ways that we can kind of create some special moments when it comes for guests on their reputation is hotels will sometimes, if you're not willing to go out and make a partnership with the local dog shelter or something like that, maybe adopt another type of hotel pet, that requires a little less maintenance like a fish or a gerbil. Sometimes I see a parrot or a bird, this makes your property stand out and creates a very Instagram-able moment. You can give it a name. Those types of little hotel animals or hotel pets can get pretty famous we've seen.

Anne Sandoval: As a pet lover myself, I just love this idea any place I get to go meet a new pet is a fun time. And I totally agree that it's an Instagram-able moment, if you've got a parrot or something in your lobby, of course your guests who are animal fans are gonna want to take a photo or a selfie with your pet. So just be sure to do some research before making a commitment to any specific type of pet and stay away from animals that might stink like ferrets or ones that may make guests a little bit nervous like snakes.

Ryan Embree: Even something as small as just getting a hotel fish. Like, Larry the fish at the front desk and you know when little children come in or come by the lobby, you can have them feed the fish. I mean it's those connections again that I think in the hospitality industry we're constantly looking for and travelers look for as well. Let's move on to social media because that's another place that again can extend your online reach and can help humanize your property. So when we look at social media when it comes to pets: sharing pets pictures. Our social media team here at Travel Media Group knows we are going get a lot of likes when we share a pet at the property, it's pets and babies. Those are like the two things that people really connect with and will all always get a like or a share. So I think putting those pet pictures whenever they're coming through through your hotel, definitely going to help with the engagement. You think about it, Anne if your puppy was on a hotel's Facebook, not only are you sharing that, but you're going to get a ton of likes from your friends and family and that's gonna extend that post reach.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, I think that's completely true. And if there's anything I know, it's that I'm going to be taking pictures of my pet, whether we're on vacation, whether we're at home, and so I think if you do have a pet friendly hotel, it could be good to have a hashtag and let your guests know if they're traveling with their pets, "Hey post hashtag pet friendly Baltimore and then we'll know we can share your photo to our page." And I think that would be a great way to get some engagement to get that user generated content and be able to increase the reach for your hotel online.

Ryan Embree: Absolutely, and one of the places we know that is the most popular for pets is Instagram, right? I personally follow and know multiple pets on Instagram that have their own handles. They have their own Instagram accounts. So as silly as this might sound, but you could potentially have a pet as an influencer that staying at your property. You know, ask if they have an Instagram and if they do have them take a picture at your property, have them share it, you share it on your hotel's Instagram. Instagram is absolutely huge for pets right now.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, it's crazy when we talk about influencer marketing, there are so many people who are making a living by creating communities on Instagram and sponsoring posts from companies that they really care about. But the same is true for pets. I also follow a lot of pets online, especially Bulldogs. And I see sponsored posts from them for different pet related things or different restaurants they go to and even hotels. So if you're looking to do something really unique, especially if you're in a big market like New York City, it could be worthwhile to get a pet influencer to come stay at your property.

Ryan Embree: Completely agree. And again, this is all about getting reach and extending your hotel's, you know, audience, online audience. The other thing that we want to do, which again, maybe two decades ago, would probably not exist, but right now pet events are huge. We just had Halloween, you don't know how many events in this area in our area in Orlando, Florida where we had Bark-Tober.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, Bark-Tober had pet costume contests and I think draws a really big crowd every year. So there are things like that all over the country.

Ryan Embree: And when you see that and you recognize those pet events, you need to put them on your social media calendar. You need to put them on your social media platforms and you need to start advertising those. Maybe I'm linking those up with special codes for your property so that travelers are aware and that travelers will at the end of the day pick your property.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, it would be interesting even if there's an event like that to advertise along with that promo code, you know, a special package where you get a little welcome basket with dog treats or catnip or whatever it is for bringing your pet with you.

Ryan Embree: Pet owners love that. And again, that goes a very long way when it comes for travelers. But even if there's not a local pet event necessarily going on, there's always something in your area, whether it be a dog park, a walking trail, Petco, PetsMart - we know the importance from that statistic at the beginning of this episode of how travelers feel about their pets. So having important places like that and giving them that information upon check-in and sharing that information on social media is again, a great way to connect with guests.

Anne Sandoval: Offering recommendations for a local groomer or a doggy daycare could also be really helpful for guests who are traveling with their pets but may need to leave them for a few hours to attend an event or attraction. And that's another thing that's mutually beneficial. If the dog's going to doggy daycare during the day, then you know you don't have anything to worry about when they're leaving the dog in the room all day by themselves.

Ryan Embree: That's very true. And you know, doggie daycare, walking trail, pet park, you know, these are all great places, but another great place that we see constantly happen more and more are restaurants, bars in your area where your travelers can take their dogs. If your traveler is not familiar with the immediate area but has brought their pet, they're either going to need to order in or they're going to need to go somewhere that is pet friendly, if they're going to, if they want to take their pet. So have a couple go to places that your front desk can suggest that they can bring their pet with them. Also a great opportunity, we talk about this all the time creating local partnerships, right? If you go to this bar, you get a free appetizer when you show your room key, vice versa, they can advertise for you as well. So finally, let's move on to review response. So that is another huge place where we're communicating with travelers and pet owners. At Travel Media Group, as you know, we have a respond and resolve solution. In our review responses, one of the most important questions that we ask a hotel when we onboard them to our solutions is whether they're pet friendly or not. And what specific verbiage and policies that they have at their property. The reason that we do this is because we want to be communicating not only to the travelers that have already come to the property, but also the travelers that might be looking to come to the property. They're reading reviews. They're trying to figure out, "Okay, what is going to be the pet policy?" The worst thing that can happen is a traveler comes, they don't know the pet policy, they think it's going to be less when it comes as a pet fee or maybe their pets a little too big to be at the property. That's the last thing we want. So when we have the opportunity to, we clearly state on our review responses the pet policies, whatever fees are included, if there's a weight pound limit, and everything else that that property has when it comes to their unique pet policy.

Anne Sandoval: I think that's so important for your reputation. I mean in any situation it would be ideal to have clearly communicated about any policies or fees upfront, but we know that travelers aren't necessarily scouring your website for this information, but travelers are frequently reading reviews and review responses before making their booking decision. So including that information in your review responses could be the difference between an informed guest and an uninformed guest.

Ryan Embree: Very true. When we look at review response, we look at it for communicating with the guests, but we also look at it as a way to get feedback from our guests about how well our hotel is operating, right? So with our sentiment analysis, we can pick out specific tag words like pets, for example. Now pets, we could see correlations between different tags that could mean different things for the hotel. For example, if we had the, the tag pet and cleanliness, we can identify this for a hotelier and say that we need to rethink our operations around cleaning with pets because it's obviously not getting the job done. Now we could see some positive correlation, maybe pets with location or pets with value or service. And those can be indicators that our hotel guests are really loving their experience when they're coming with pets. And we need to start marketing that through our website, through our email marketing, through our social media. So using this sentiment analysis around reviews and review responses can really tell you a lot about your property when it comes to pets.

Anne Sandoval: That's so true. And with sentiment analysis, it's really all about business intelligence. And what's interesting is with so many travelers who value the ability to bring their pet with them, you could find that there are reviews about pets at your hotel, even if you're not pet friendly. So if we can identify that you have a large amount of your offering feedback that they wish you were pet friendly, then that could give you some really important business intelligence, if you're considering making the switch to being a pet friendly hotel as well.

Ryan Embree: You're right, all of these things that we talked about all play in together and at Travel Media Group, we are at the forefront of all of these changes. So we look for these things. As I mentioned before in this episode 10 - 20 years ago, these tips and best practices that we talked about today, they weren't a big part of of the hotel industry, but 2019 going into 2020 this pets and the way that that, that they're dealt with in the hotel industry is huge and it's only going to become more and more important as a hotelier. So as we wrap up, you know, again, I challenge you if you're listening to this, whether you're a non pet friendly hotel or a pet friendly hotel, make these little changes. Tell us how this impacts, track all of your success with it because I guarantee you it's making that special connection that's going to have an impact on your reputation and it's going to help you grow your social media audience. Any last tips, before we wrap up here Anne?

Anne Sandoval: But we have so many good ideas here about not just some operational tips for your pet friendly hotel, but really how to enhance that guest experience and consider the pet as important of a guest as the person who's staying with you. So, as a dog owner, I'm just super excited about this topic and glad to have been on the show today.

Ryan Embree: Absolutely, well thank you for all your insight Anne I'm sure we'll see you again on the Suite Spot and thank you all for listening, we'll talk to you next time. To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group, our editor is Anne Sandoval with cover art by Bary Gordon. I'm your host Ryan Embree and we hope you enjoyed your stay.

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