One very important decision you’ll have to make when you begin offering your second home as a vacation rental is whether you’ll allow guests to bring their beloved pets along with them. It’s so important, in fact, that virtually every VR-advertising site you sign up with will prompt you to answer the question: Pet Friendly, Yes or No?
But it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. And whatever you decide, your stated “pet policy” will definitely cost you bookings. It has happened to us on numerous occasions.
Saying No to Fido and Fifi
The pattern is always the same. We clearly state in all of our online listings that we do not accept pets—which is undoubtedly why pet owners wait until everything else has been agreed upon before saying, “Oh, by the way, we have a small, well-behaved [fill in the dog breed] that never barks or causes any trouble.” It’s always the last thing they mention, usually after two or three email exchanges or phone conversations, as though it just occurred to them to tell us about their four-legged traveling companion.
A recent refusal to accept a guest’s “precious little housebroken toy Maltese” cost us a four-week booking. On the other hand, it may have also spared us from having to deal with “accidents” on our Oriental rugs, claw marks on the upholstery, gnawing of chair legs, and heaven knows what regarding our pillows and bedding.
There’s also the fact that establishing such a policy (and sticking to it) undoubtedly makes our property more attractive to prospective guests with animal allergies. Pet dander—especially from cats—can cause eyes to water and throats to itch, even when the animal is no longer present. (Alfred, who also gets hay fever, can attest to this.) That’s why the vast majority of VR owners who advertise their properties as being “Pet Friendly” really mean “Dog Friendly.” They welcome dogs but refuse to accept cats (and most other types of pets, for that matter).
Surviving and Thriving with Pet-Friendly Vacation Rentals
For our rather elegant Colonial Williamsburg-style VR property, we’ve decided that a strict “No Pets Policy” works best for us. But we have some friends who’ve taken a completely different approach and been enormously successful with it.
Rick and Debbie Scali are dog lovers. They have two Miniature Schnauzers and wouldn’t dream of going on vacation without them. “We’ve traveled with our pets for years,” says Rick, “and some of the places we stayed were less than clean. It was obvious by the smell that they allowed pets. We vowed when we started our vacation-rental business that all of our homes would be both pet priendly and squeaky clean.”
In 2003, the Scalis launched their VR business, Easy Street Vacation Rentals (www.easystreetvacationrentals.com) in Destin, Florida. Today, with four properties of their own and another 20 they manage for other owners, Rick and Debbie promote their site as offering the “largest selection of quality pet-friendly vacation homes on the Emerald Coast.” They get lots of repeat business and great reviews.
What’s the secret to their success? As Rick and Debbie explain at their website, “It helps to have great housekeeping personnel who do a thorough cleaning after each visitor. In the seven plus years we’ve been managing our pet-friendly accommodations, we can count on one hand the number of “pet issues” we have had. And our non-pet-owner guests cannot tell we’re pet friendly by the look, the smell, and the condition of our homes.”
A Range of “Pet Friendly” Possibilities
We’ve presented the two ends of the spectrum on pet policies: We accept no pets of any sort at our vacation-rental property. Rick and Debbie Scali not only allow pets but actively market the properties they own and manage to dog lovers.
Is there anything in between? Sure! You own the property, so you can set the policy. For example, you might want to accept dogs, but only those that weigh less than 25 pounds. You’ll also want to consider whether to place a limit on the number of pets you will allow your guests to bring. It isn’t uncommon for pet owners to have not one but two dogs, because they like to play together.
Whatever the details, it’s very important to create and present a clearly worded pet policy for your vacation-rental property. (Click here to read the one the Scalis have crafted for their Destin properties, and here for an excellent article on what to cover in your pet policy.)
Spreading the Word to Pet Lovers
One final point: If you decide to welcome pets to your VR property, be sure to update your listings on VRBO.com, HomeAway.com, or whatever sites you’re currently using to promote your property. You might also want to consider seeking out and creating listings on sites that cater to pet owners, like PetsWelcome (www.petswelcome.com), PetFriendlyTravel (www.petfriendlytravel.com), and DogFriendly (www.dogfriendly.com).
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner are the founders of FullyBookedRentals (www.fullybookedrentals.com), a website focused on helping new and experienced VR owners advertise, market, manage, and make money from their second homes. They also own and operate a very successful vacation-rental property in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (www.buckscountycottage.com).