PetTravel.com in the News


The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina


June 20, 2009

Section: Business

Edition: TSN

Page: D1


TRAVELING WITH FURRY FRIENDS: Doors opened to pets

Pet-friendly destinations becoming more common
Mike Cherney, mcherney@thesunnews.com

When Angela Visalli bought a motel in the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle Beach with her husband in 2003, one of the first things they did was tear out the carpets and replace it with ceramic tile.

"We wanted a pet-friendly place," said Visalli, who lives on the grounds with three dogs, noting that tile is easier to clean when pets have been in the rooms. "But we figured we could get a niche in the market here that all the other places don't have."

Visalli's 14 rooms at La Dolce Vita Villas are among a growing number of tourist-related establishments that have gone pet friendly in recent years. Last summer, Hilton Hotels & Resorts said it would allow pets in participating hotels, and this year, Southwest Airlines said it would let passengers take small pets on its flights.

"We had considered it for the last seven or eight years, and every time we looked at the numbers and we looked at the demand, we had some reluctancy in doing it," said Frans Mustert, the CEO of Oceana Resorts, which made its Ocean Park Resort pet friendly last year. "Then finally, last year, we felt the numbers were large enough to make that move."

Some industry observers said the down economy is spurring travel companies to add pet-friendly amenities because they can generate revenue - Hilton and Southwest collect a fee for the service. At the same time, cost-conscious travelers are looking to take their pets with them on their vacations because kenneling them at home can be expensive.

"This is a tough time for the travel industry," said Susan Smith, the president of PetTravel.com, which provides listings of pet-friendly accommodations. "Travel is off, and hotels and everything down to inns and bed and breakfasts, they're trying to increase their revenue. So one of the most obvious ways they can do that is become pet friendly."

Also driving an uptick in pet travel are baby boomers, whose animals take on even more significance after their children have grown up and left home. For them, leaving pets at home during a vacation is like leaving behind a member of the family.

"We're mama and daddy to our girls, and we're empty nesters otherwise," said Hazel Frick, 59, whose two female dogs stayed at Sun-Glo Boarding & Grooming just outside North Myrtle Beach, while she and her husband visited the Grand Strand from North Carolina. "We just feel better having them within a close commute."

Fees can vary. Ocean Park charges $15 a night for pets with a 20-pound weight limit, while Visalli's La Dolce Vita does not charge and has no weight limit. Hilton charges a fee of up to $75, according to its Web site.

More than 29 million U.S. adults reported traveling with a pet on a trip of 50 miles or more away from home in the past three years, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Nearly 80 percent said they took dogs, and cats came in a distant second with 15 percent, according to the association.

Those pet travelers have not gone unnoticed by the hotel industry. Melissa Halliburton, who created BringFido.com, a Web site that lists dog-friendly accommodations and restaurants, said the site launched four years ago with 15,000 hotels. The number has since doubled.

"The people that travel with their dogs usually are very responsible, so we don't hear a lot of complaints from hotels," she said. "Once they do go pet friendly, most don't go back."

Catering to pets can be a challenge. At the La Quinta Inn on U.S. 17 Business in Myrtle Beach, general manager Jane Slattery said rooms must be cleaned more thoroughly after pets have stayed overnight. All La Quinta Inns are pet friendly, she said.

At Ocean Park Resort, Mustert said guests are required to leave a cell phone number with the hotel in case their pet starts acting up while it is in the room alone. Housekeepers don't go into the rooms when pets are left unattended.

Others that have long accepted pets have tried to attract even more pet lovers in recent years. Myrtle Beach KOA, a campground, was among the first KOAs in the country to add a dog park about two years ago, said John Schwemler, the campground's general manager.

"You've just got a lot of families that will have dogs and want to bring them only because of the sheer expense of kenneling them," he said. "It makes a big difference when you can bring them and when you can't."

Retreat Myrtle Beach, a vacation rental company that has been pet friendly for years, is waiving its pet fee sometimes this year. Laurie Chester, who was visiting from the Pittsburgh area, has been staying there with her dog for several years - and liked it so much that she even invited other families with dogs to come down, too.

"You could have the worst day and come home and they're happy to see you no matter what," said Chester, 43. "It's nice to find a place that accommodates people that feel that way about their animals."

At BringFido.com, Myrtle Beach is the second most popular destination in terms of visitors searching for pet friendly accommodations, Halliburton said. Beaches in Horry County are generally off-limits to pets during the day in the summer - exact hours vary by municipality - so the Grand Strand is not as pet friendly as it could be, she said.

Still, Robin Lupinacci, who was visiting from Harrisburg, Pa., with Cocoa, his poodle, said some stores and restaurants are very accommodating. He stayed at a condo with his extended family where pets were not allowed, so he also boarded the dog at Sun-Glo.

He seemed pleased with the service, though next time he visits, he's going to try to stay at a pet friendly place.

"I guess I'd call him almost closer to a companion," said Lupinacci, 54, who is single. "I enjoy having him. I like taking him out into the natural areas. I love to get him in the sea."


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