How We Did It: Creating & Promoting the Inn at East Beach as a Dog-Friendly Hotel
By Amanda Hurley Corporate Director of Marketing, broughtonHOTELS | October 06, 2019
Nearly 40% of pet owners travel with their furry companions every year, according to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. That's close to a 20% increase from a decade ago. Knowing this, it only makes sense for hotels to accommodate guests who choose to travel with their pets. More than half of U.S. hotels allow pets, according to the 2018 American Hotel & Lodging Association Hotel Trends Survey.
More people than ever are traveling with their pets and we wanted to capture that part of the market. As a hotel management company, we understand it takes a special approach to optimize a hotel for pet-friendliness. When a hotel decides to allow pets, there are a number of factors to consider when strategizing and planning a pet-friendly launch. Aside from simply attracting pet owners as guests and what kind of services should be offered for their four-legged pals, rules and regulations associated with welcoming them must also be implemented.
The Case Study: The Inn at East Beach of Santa Barbara, CA
Becoming Dog-Friendly | Setting Up the Property for Success
The Inn at East Beach is a unique and charming property in the Santa Barbara market. Featuring 33 guest rooms and suites, only a block away from the beach, the Inn at East Beach has a mid-century modern aesthetic and a fun beachy vibe. The hotel is perfect for travelers who want the true California coast experience.
When we decided to allow pets at the Inn at East Beach, there were a number of decisions we had to make in order to get started.
1. What kind of pet will we allow?
Deciding on the type of animals allowed at the Inn at East Beach was fairly easy. We knew most people travel with their dogs as opposed to other pets such as cats, birds, or reptiles. Dogs don't need a litter box or heat lamp, and it's fairly easy to take them on trips.
As a best practice, we set a limit of two dogs per room, but as avid animal lovers, we decided to wave the weight limit and breed restrictions you may find at other hotels. We did this because we assume those with larger dogs and commonly "aggressive" dogs most likely won't travel with their pets.
2. What will the rules be for pet owners?
We knew it was essential to have a clearly defined list of rules when allowing dogs on the property. We listed these out on our website as a "Dog Policy " and have all dog owners sign the Guest Dog Agreement upon arrival. There is a set fee per stay/per dog and a sanitation fee for stays longer than 3 nights.
Additional rules we included were:
- All dogs must be on a leash while in public spaces
- Dogs must always be supervised while on property, this means no leaving the dogs in the rooms unattended
- Dogs are not permitted in the lobby during breakfast hours or in the gated pool area, but guests are allowed to dine outside with their dog
- Dogs are to relieve themselves in designated relief areas
- Pet parents are responsible for any damage caused by their dog
- Alternative arrangements must be made for the dog if there are complaints of noise or disruptiveness
And of course, the hotel should not be held liable for any damage suffered as a result of the guest's dog.
3. What do we want to provide to the dog guests and their pet parents?
Aside from the formalities, we do genuinely want pets and their owners to enjoy their stay at our dog-friendly hotel. That's why we decided to provide complimentary amenities to each and every dog to use during their stay.
The Inn at East Beach opted to offer dog beds, feeding and drinking bowls, and mats for dogs to use throughout their stay. These amenities are provided upon request and based on availability, although we made sure to purchase plenty in advance to best accommodate our furry guests.
To sweeten the deal, we also include a fun dog toy and locally made dog snack bars given to the visiting dogs as a welcome amenity gift. Dog owners are also given waste bags to ensure they clean up after their pets.
We also provide dog parents with a list of pet sitting services should they need to leave the dog at any time during their visit. Another list we hand out also includes pet-friendly locations to visit in Santa Barbara, including restaurants, bars/pubs, wineries, beaches, and parks.
4. What do we need to do operationally to welcome dogs to our hotel?
In becoming dog-friendly, the Inn at East Beach had to invest in new deep cleaning supplies to shampoo the carpets and clean the furniture. This is where that extra $50 non-refundable pet fee helps offset the extra costs associated with cleaning the dog-friendly rooms. For our housekeeping team, we provided door hangers alerting them that there is a dog in the room so they know to come back for cleaning when the dog is not present. We made a standard to not let rooms go uncleaned for two days in a row.
In saying that, we also had to decide which rooms would be designated as dog-friendly rooms. We selected four rooms on the ground floor, two of each bed options; i.e. two with a king bed and two with double queen beds. We also made a note to consider adding a room or two should the demand increase.
And although the Inn at East Beach is right across the street from a large grassy field, we decided to invest in a pet relief area. The station is conveniently located in the hotel's secluded parking lot. The area contains a fake fire hydrant, water bowl, astroturf, waste station, white picket fence, and a lantern to ensure guests feel comfortable taking their dog outside to relieve themselves any time of day or night.
5. What do we need to do from a revenue management standpoint?
Once we had decided on the amount and type of rooms we wanted to delegate as dog-friendly, there was some discussion regarding how to classify them as such in the PMS and booking engine.
To avoid over-selling, we considered changing the room types to pet-friendly to sell them individually. Or was there an easier tracking method?
Eventually, we decided to add a "dog-optional room" descriptor to each room type. If we did create new room types, we would have run the risk of not being able to sell them to guests staying without a dog. By adding the disclaimer and promoting our dog-friendliness, we stated that we have a limited number of dog-optional rooms which are first-come, first-served. If anyone has allergies, they will see this and need to request a non-pet room.
Promoting Our New Dog-Friendliness
The first thing we decided to do to kick off our dog-friendliness at the Inn at East Beach was to host a dog adoption event with local Santa Barbara charity DAWG (the Dog Adoption & Welfare Group) for National Adopt-a-Dog Day on April 30, 2019.
We shared the event with a press release to various media outlets including Southern California Lifestyle Magazine who ended up promoting the event on their social media channels and website event calendar. The local TV station even helped promote the event with their segment on National Pet Adoption Week.
The kick-off event was the public's first look at our new dog-friendliness as a hotel, but there were various marketing strategies we had implemented, and are still using, to entice those traveling with dogs to stay at the Inn at East Beach.
The following is an exhaustive list on our marketing strategies to promote a dog-friendly hotel:
1. Social Media Promotion
We enlisted a team member's pup for a photoshoot to help promote the upcoming dog-friendliness of the hotel on social media. As we were awaiting our kick-off event, we teased out the new policy with photos of a dog on property and hinted about some "exciting news."
When we were ready to announce the news and kick-off event we boosted the Facebook event page to the local area to help generate awareness around the dog adoption event. Cross-promotion from DAWG also helped us spread the word.
2. Email Marketing Campaign
A couple of weeks before the kick-off we sent an email to our past guest list to announce our dog-friendliness. We were sure to include all the benefits of bringing a pup on a guest's travels and the amazing amenities the dog would receive should they stay with us.
The email also included a section on the National Adopt-a-Dog Day Adoption Event giving people a chance to RSVP to the event via previously mentioned Facebook event page.
3. Website Updates & SEO
In synchronization with the social media and email marketing campaigns, we rolled out changes to our website to inform inquiring guests of our dog-friendliness. We were sure to add our pet policy to the site and link it to a sample of our dog agreement.
We sprinkled dog-friendly content throughout our amenity, offers, and home pages to help boost SEO rankings on pet-friendly and dog-friendly hotel searches.
Additionally, a "Now Dog-Friendly" pop-up was enabled on the website to draw immediate attention to the change.
4. PPC & Digital Advertising
Our ad copy and creatives were updated to reflect the dog-friendliness of the property. This included display ads, SEM, and Facebook.
5. Offers & Packages
We are currently developing a package to truly pamper our visiting pooches during their stay. Taking a cue from a package we developed for another dog-friendly property we manage, the Park James Hotel in Menlo Park, CA; we will include a mobile dog grooming service, blanket, bed, bandana, gourmet treat, interactive toy, and human treats for the pet parents. Offering over-the-top packages such as this will help us garner press surrounding the dog-friendliness of the hotel.
6. Enlisting on Pet-Friendly Websites
Last, but certainly not least, we never neglected the power of adding our own listing to sites such as gopetfriendly.com, petswelcome.com, bringfido.com, and petfriendlyhotels.com. Adding the Inn at East Beach to websites like these helps us get in front of pet owners searching for dog-friendly lodging who may have never known about us otherwise.
Becoming a dog-friendly hotel took the Inn at East Beach five months, during which time there was a lot of planning and strategy involved in making it a success. Aside from bringing in extra revenue through offers, packages, and pet fees, we are able to connect and reach a new pet traveler audience.
Pets are part of the family too, and vacations are always better when all members of the family can go. It is truly in the best interest of hotel owners and hotel management companies to consider transforming their properties into pet-friendly locations to stay in line with the competition and drive incremental revenue to the bottom line.
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