Editor’s Note: Peter Pelland is the CEO of Pelland Advertising, a company that he founded in 1980 that has been serving the family camping industry for nearly 40 years. His company specializes in building fully responsive websites, along with producing a full range of four-color process print advertising, for clients from coast to coast. Learn more about Pelland Advertising at www.pelland.com.
There are many new terms that have been born over the last year and a half, and one of them is “pandemic pet.” I am intimately familiar with the term, since our Australian Shepherd is 11 months old as I write this column, and she is my ever-present companion, just inches away from my chair at this very moment. Addy is more loyal than Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin and Mighty Manfred all rolled into one.
For the first few weeks after we got her just after Thanksgiving, she would get carsick on a two-mile ride, but that is behind her now and she loves to travel. This past week we took her on a much longer ride and a mini-vacation in Maine, and she passed the “audition” in flying colors. We are now anxious to do more traveling with our new family member.
According to Statista, 6% of Americans surveyed in June 2020 reported getting a new pet, increasing to 10% in December 2020. During these same time periods, there were much smaller percentages of respondents who reported giving up a pet (typically due to unemployment and concerns about the costs of pet ownership) and those numbers were offset by the numbers of people who fostered a pet. These statistics are reinforced by the American Pet Products Association which reports that pet ownership in the United States rose from 67% of households to an all-time record of 70% during 2020, with 11.38 million households getting a new pet during the pandemic. With most owners spending more time at home during this time, their pets tend to be like our “Velcro puppy” and suffer a greater degree of separation anxiety when left alone.
For all of these reasons, more and more businesses are putting out the welcome mat — and the water bowl — in response to these trends and profiting in the process. Prior to and during our recent trip to Maine, we have chosen pet-friendly lodging and have dined outdoors at restaurants (and lobster pounds!) that welcome pets. We have also patronized pet-friendly breweries and wineries, visited pet-friendly attractions, and even took Addy on a whale-watching cruise (where her ticket cost $20.) All of these businesses have profited from their pet policies, at the expense of businesses where pets are not welcome. Although most retail businesses are not allowed to welcome pets inside, the smart ones have benches and bowls of freshwater outdoors, signaling their interest in reaching out to pets and their owners. At one business after another, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “Can I give her a cookie?”
What is your campground doing to reach out to this growing market of pet owners? Most campground owners have capitalized nicely upon the current trend, making their parks more pet-friendly than ever. Campground dog parks have become very popular (in many instances with two parks, one for smaller and one for larger breeds), waste stations and litter bags are commonplace, and many parks are installing dog-wash stations. Entire businesses such as Dogipot, Dog Waste Depot and DoodyCalls have been built around the combination of pets and parks, while other suppliers have added pet-related items to their product lines.
Being outdoor-oriented, campgrounds are a natural for pets, although resorts, bed and breakfasts, and even luxury hotels are also attempting to find ways to increase their share of this lucrative market.
With luxury hotels embracing the demands of the market, most campgrounds remain somewhat more cautious and hesitant to allow pets in their cabins, cottages, yurts, glamping tents, park models and other rental units. One of the first things to bear in mind is that you must avoid alienating guests who do not own pets in your efforts to reach out to pet owners. How can a park owner make these decisions in a deliberate and informed manner? First of all, decide whether potential damage is a risk that you are willing to incur, keeping in mind that those instances are likely to be fairly infrequent. In those instances where damage might occur, both the repair costs and the lost revenue during the time of the repair must both be taken into consideration. What if a unit has been reserved by a subsequent guest during the repair timeframe? What if that unit is unique or it is a time of year when a suitable substitute is unavailable?
It is probably due to questions like these that most parks tend to limit their pet-friendly accommodations to older units or rentals that would not otherwise realize full occupancy. One way or another, you must be covered against even the remote potentiality of losses due to damage. Usually, these risks are covered by either deposits or fees that are outlined in a signed agreement. Have your attorney check to see if your state allows you to collect pet deposits or fees, whether or not there is a limitation on those fees and whether or not you are allowed to restrict animals according to breed or size. Keep in mind that you will NEVER be allowed to apply any charges to designated service or companion animals.
Subject to any limitations in your state, a “pet fee” is simply an added charge for a pet. Similar to charging fees for extra persons or visitors, these pet fees may be higher for rental units than for conventional campsites. Such fees do not cover damages, and the fees are not refundable. You might think of them as a type of self-insurance. On the other hand, a “pet deposit” must be refunded upon inspection and confirmation that no damage has occurred. If damage is found, you will be responsible for providing an itemization that will justify keeping all or part of the deposit. Since it might be impractical to perform immediate and thorough inspections at the time of check-out, your agreement should outline the timeframe and manner for the return of the deposit. Also, keep in mind when setting your deposit that it will be very difficult to collect damages that exceed the amount of the deposit itself. Unless you are prohibited from doing so by your state laws, there is no reason why you cannot collect BOTH a non-refundable pet fee and a refundable pet deposit.
Whatever you charge, a signed agreement between your park and the pet owner(s) is essential. At a minimum, that agreement will:
- Clearly identify the pet(s) that are covered by the agreement.
- Clearly — and in great detail — list your applicable rules and regulations. (Just because a fee has been paid does NOT mean that an animal cannot be evicted for just cause.)
- Clearly outline the liability for damages. These will include damage to your property, damage to the property of other guests, personal injuries and the costs of cleaning and repairs, both inside and outside of the rental unit.
- Clearly delineate and outline the associated fees.
You are wise to capitalize upon the current trends in pet ownership, but you need to be certain that you will profit from the process.