Gone are the days of throwing Fido in the back seat of the car, or leaving them at the local kennel, as more companies begin developing products geared toward the consumer’s desire to bring their pet with them while traveling.
Experts say pet travel is a multi-billion dollar industry, which they don’t see slowing down.
“More people own pets than ever before, and they are treating them as part of the family,” Cristen Underwood, director of marketing for Quaker Pet Group, said. “In conjunction with a trend toward pet-friendly destinations and accommodations, it is getting easier to include furry family members in travel plans. There is also an increased awareness of pet travel safety, especially for car travel, due to recent safe pet restraint legislation in certain states.”
Quaker Pet Group’s Sherpa brands are arguably one of the most well-known names in pet travel, because of the brand’s founder Gayle Martz, a flight attendant who designed the world’s first formally approved airline carrier in 1989.
Since then, pet travel has grown to include pet-friendly hotels, planes, camps, cars, websites and thousands of related products.
According to PetRelocation.com’s Summer Pet Travel survey, 60 percent of pet owners traveled with their pet in 2010.
“More destinations, accommodations and stores are becoming pet-friendly,” Underwood said. “Because pets have become more humanized, people see them as ideal travel companions. Smaller pets have grown in popularity, making them easier to tote along.”
Bringing along a pet, whether it be in the car, or on a plane, means consumers are spending extra money on items such as carriers, first-aid kits, toys, portable dishes, leashes, car restrains and other products.
On the Road
According to a January 2009 survey conducted by the Travel Industry Association of America, 76 percent of those who traveled with their pet did so by car, and according to the same survey 78 percent of them traveled with a dog.
Companies, retailers, entrepreneurs and lawmakers are all taking note of this statistic and creating products, stocking shelves, making laws and building businesses around this niche.
Amy Burkert, founder of GoPetFriendly.com, built a successful blog, about the original difficulties of traveling with her German shepherd. Now, she’s turned pet travel into her career.
“We [my husband and I] were leaving from Pennsylvania and heading to Canada, then going to Minnesota then coming back home to Pennsylvania,” Burkert said. “We had to find seven hotels and it took two days to find them. I didn’t have any more time to find dog friendly beaches, or any dog friendly activities. There wasn’t anywhere you could go to find pet friendly stuff.
“Rod, my husband, said to look into finding anything that made it easy to find pet friendly places online and if I couldn’t, I should make one. So when we got home I looked, and found nothing. So I launched the website in 2009.”
The couple took it a step further in 2011 by selling their house to live in an RV with their dogs while traveling around the country writing about pet-friendly destinations.
Now a pet travel expert, Burkert advises stores to be their customer’s one-stop destination for pet travel needs.
“We don’t do a ton of shopping and when we need something we go for a high quality product,” she said. “If my leash breaks when I am on the road and I need a new one, I am not going to pick up a $2.99 leash. I want a nice high-quality leash. We are willing to invest. You don’t have to worry about price points as much.”
Pet retailers, should also educate the public about pet restraints, she suggested, as more states pass laws impact the industry.
“People that are not doing that, don’t understand how dangerous it is, not just for their pets, but for themselves and others on the road,” Burkert said.
It’s something Sam Irwin, the territory manager of Hollywood Feed, natural and holistic pet food merchants in Tennessee, said she considers it as one of her job duties when people come into her store.
“When I have customers come in with their pet the first thing I ask them is, ‘did you know about X laws and that your pet has to be confined when driving them in the car,’” Irwin said. “It is really easy to tell customers about the travel products and it rolls off the tongue when you learn all of the laws. Also, it helps your customer and teaches them things they may not be aware of.”
More and More Products
Every year at industry trade shows, more travel-related pet products, like the Pet Cooler Carrier, are introduced, while long-standing companies, like KONG, develop ways for those traveling with pets to use their product.
“Our classic KONG rubber toy keeps dogs busy, engaged and relaxed and they are especially helpful when pets travel,” Mark Hines, lead canine behavior & training specialist for KONG, said. “A stuffed KONG can help reduce anxiety and stress and can keep the dog occupied while in transit keeping its mind off the trip itself and focused on the reward of getting all the treats out of the KONG.”
Craig Skaggs, the founder and inventor of the Pet Cooler Carrier, which keeps a pet cool in their carrier and also provides drinking water, has been doing research and developing the design for several years. During that time, he has seen the segment grow.
“I think the possibilities for growth in this area [pet travel] are huge,” Skaggs said. “From what I see, it’s still in its infancy. Not only will more places want to encourage pet owners to bring their pets, but they’ll continue developing new ways to cater to those pets while they’re there. Many hotels already offer pet beds, treats and premium dog food to pet guests. All of this encourages people to travel with their pets, knowing that they will be welcome.”
Emily Tobin, the public relations coordinator of Deep Creek, a four-season vacation destination in Maryland, said popular travel destinations will continue to be increasingly more pet friendly. Also, as more restaurants and attractions begin allowing dogs, the travel segment will grow.
“Pets are a part of our family and helping them feel welcome is important to us,” she said. “We provide all of our pet friendly homes a food and water bowl upon arrival as well as a water station outside of our office during the summer months.
Pet travel has become so main-stream that family vacation powerhouse Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., even had to address it.
The company worked with Best Friends Pet Care to open a 27,000-square-foot pet care center near their attraction that offers boarding, daycare and grooming for dogs, cats and other family pets.
Their website boasts: “While you explore the parks, your pet can enjoy playgroup, special treats and a movie. After park-hopping, spend time with your pet playing in our private dog park or taking a walk around the grounds.”
Derek Huntington, president elect of the International Pet Animal Transportation Association, said, pet travel has, “grown very quickly and in a very short period of time.”
“Pets are cared for on a much higher scale than in years past,” he added. “As a result, people will buy more products for their pets and they will travel with their pets. So with pets being part of the family, pet owners are willing to go to great lengths and expense to be sure they can travel with them.”
One factor impacting this area, experts say, is the Baby Boomer generation.
“Baby boomers, which are a very large population, are losing their kids, they are growing up and moving out, so baby boomers are getting pets,” Susan Smith, the owner of PetTravel.com, an online resource for worldwide travel, said. “In general, baby boomers love to travel and they love their pets.”