062917 Tourism: Adding pets to family-friendly vacations
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Allowing dogs on the beach is a big step toward a pet-friendly designation.
Tanya Ackerman/Coastal Observer

Tourism: Adding pets to family-friendly vacations

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

Who wouldn’t want to go on vacation with their best friend?

When your best friend is furry and four-legged, and maybe a little yappy, it can present a challenge that has become an influence on where people are choosing to travel.

“I can’t believe how high up on the top search amenities that pet friendly is,” Beth Stedman, president and CEO of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce said during this month’s Tourism Management Commission meeting.

According to statistics from county tourism data, the top searched amenities on the Hammock Coast website this quarter were oceanfront, swimming pool, pet friendly and internet access. It’s no wonder “pet friendly” is standing out as an amenity in Georgetown County, pet travel and pet ownership is becoming a trackable phenomenon nationally. American Pet Products Association reports that 68 percent of households are pet owners and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an increase in spending on pets every year this decade.

Dogs, like children, have become an important influence in their parents’ lives and those pets are big business when it comes to tourism. BringFido is a Greenville-based business that helps pet owners find accommodations, destinations and other services for their pets.

“I’d say that the growth of pet-friendly businesses and tourism is definitely a trend on the rise,” said Erin Ballinger, content editor at BringFido. “An increasing number of hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops are becoming pet-friendly.”

BringFido’s website lists only 21 guaranteed pet-friendly rental homes in Pawleys Island and Litchfield, five in Murrells Inlet and three in Garden City. But checking some of the local real estate websites revealed there are so many more. Along the Waccamaw Neck there are 125 pet-friendly homes for vacation rentals listed on the eight main real estate agencies websites.

But pet-friendly rentals are not in the majority. Not by a long shot. Most chain hotels in the area won’t even consider allowing a pet that isn’t a designated service animal. Fortunately for those businesses doggievacay.com reports a scant 15 percent of pet owners admit to smuggling a pet into an unfriendly accommodation, but the true number may be much higher.

That could be because of extra costs associated with pet travel. Dog owners who can openly bring their four-legged companion along will spend on average an extra $247 on a trip, versus ones who must board the pet spend $486. That’s $239 possible dollars that could go into a tourism economy.

A dog-friendly destination offers sidewalks for walkability, businesses that embrace dogs, trails and parks where leashed dogs are welcome. If a pup likes to play in the waves, Pawleys Island and Litchfield Beach are both dog-friendly. Leash laws apply, and Pawleys Island has stricter leash enforcement. Waccamaw Neck checks off most pet destination requirements, but it lacks a dog park. The nearest public dog park is in Surfside, but there is a private one in Murrells Inlet.

A Dog’s Way Inn is a combination kennel and dog park. The 13-year-old business isn’t typical, but fills a need during tourist season. “We get a lot of new customers in the summer time, or even regular customers that come every year and bring their dogs with them,” Amy Willard, niece of co-owner Harris Willard said.

She’s worked at the kennel since 2006. Many of the kennel’s tourist regulars end up booking a place to stay that doesn’t allow dogs, but for those renters leaving their pet home isn’t an option. “They can come and get them during the day and visit with them and they have a place for them at night,” Willard said. “I guess it’s the comfort of having their pet close by.”

She’s not wrong, dogvacay.com says pet owners can’t fully enjoy a vacation if they are worrying about their pet, and 70 percent of them worry.

Being a private dog park allows the business to vet each dog that comes in to play on the two acres. They do charge, but the fee is minimal: $5 for a drop-in or $30 for a 10 visit punch card. “We make sure that they’re registered here. We have our regulars that come about every day, but we also get some new people that need to run their dogs that are from out of town,” Willard said. “It’s play time.”

Just last week Willard got a call from an older couple who was vacationing with 35 members of their family. “They had a little schnauzer and needed a place for couple of days,” she said.

Both Visit Myrtle Beach and Visit Charleston offer pet-friendly links directly on their website. These pages help a visitor plan a trip where they know their pet will be welcomed.

Stedman, who has acted as interim tourism marketing director since February, receives marketing emails promoting the pet-friendliness of accommodations for tourism. “I think that’s something we should consider doing,” she said. “It’s something that a lot of our accommodations partners advertise on their own.”

Myrtle Beach was listed in the top 15 places for dog ownership in the United States, with Charleston ranking at 22. “As more people choose to travel with their pets it is advantageous for destinations to have pet-friendly accommodations available,” said Halsey Perrin of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Offering pet-friendly restaurants, accommodations and services is a modern trend. Recent research conducted by independent company compared millennial pet owners to baby boomers. It found that when it comes to portability of a pet, 61 percent of the younger generation found it essential. Whereas only 31 percent of elders felt the same. Pet friendliness has become one of the largest influences when it comes to choosing a destination or accommodation, and it’s not likely to go away.

“People treat their pets differently,” Stedman said. When she was growing up, her family had pets, but they’re more like a member of the family now. As an adult, she and her family have a Westie named Angus. “We make as many considerations for him as we do for our 14-year-old,” she said. “It makes a huge difference in where you go and what you do when you’re there.”

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