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SunSentinel and Pet Travel

Tom Stieghorst
Business Writer
Posted July 7 2003

When Jerry Hatfield launched his small business in 1999, his target market was travel agencies. A former owner of two agencies, Hatfield knew agents needed help finding pet-friendly accommodations for their clients.

He planned to charge them $3.50 or $4 a month for access to his Web site. But that year airlines cut commissions on tickets from 8 percent to 5 percent. "Travel agents weren't in the mood to pay $3.50 a month for anything," Hatfield said.

So he revamped to appeal to pet owners instead. Site visitors can sift through 14,000 pet-friendly accommodations worldwide and book a room at more than 9,000. The "Pet Passport" section lists rules and regulations for bringing your pet to 97 countries.

"It took us months and months to compile that," Hatfield said.

The four-person company includes a Web designer in Fort Lauderdale, a programmer in Cancun, Mexico, and a part-time content editor in Idaho. Each works from home. A monthly e-mail newsletter goes out to 7,000 subscribers.

"Everything we do is online. We're a company of cell phones, laptop computers and DSL lines," Hatfield said.

That helps keep ad prices affordable for scores of accommodations that advertise for between $75 and $250 a year on the site.

Hatfield said hotels that accept pets do it for several reasons. Pet owners with their animals tend to stay longer because they're not as worried about getting back home. Some hotels earn fees for care, grooming and special foods.

And, claims Hatfield, "Pet owners are a little bit better class of customer."

The growing number of hotels that accept pets is fueling revenue growth at, although Hatfield wouldn't disclose specifics. In addition to ads, Hatfield earns commissions when browsers use the site to book a room listed there.

Bookings for larger hotels go through a system developed by Sabre Holdings, the travel reservations giant, which pays a 6 percent commission.

For small inns and bed and breakfasts, Hatfield developed PetRes, an in-house system. He gets a 10 percent cut from those bookings.

Jerry Santos, partner in the 53-room Ocean Villa Inn in San Diego, advertises on He said he trusts the information on Hatfield's site. "He checks on the accommodations and asks for comments from people who have stayed at the accommodations," Santos said.

Hatfield, 67, said his strong suits are his travel background and his marketing skills, while his weakness is technology. "I was totally unprepared for the intricacies of trying to run a Web site," he said.

While much of the digital heavy lifting falls to co-workers, Hatfield said he would like to be able to do certain things, such as manipulate the site's database, on his own.

The next frontier for is overseas. Hatfield is working with companies in Italy and France to localize the tone and content to those countries. For example, in France dogs are allowed on trains; in the United States generally not.

Canada and Mexico are next on the list. "We're slowly working our way through the bigger countries," Hatfield said.

Tom Stieghorst can be reached at or 305-810-5008.

© 2003 Sun Sentinel Co. & South Florida Interactive, Inc.