SC, NC vacation cities most popular for travelers with dogs

Noble Horvath

As more people are venturing out of their homes for long-delayed vacations, rental companies around the U.S. report spikes in travelers’ interest in taking a little, or large, piece of home with them — Fido. Hospitality and vacation rental companies Expedia, AirBnB and Vacasa all say they have seen either […]

As more people are venturing out of their homes for long-delayed vacations, rental companies around the U.S. report spikes in travelers’ interest in taking a little, or large, piece of home with them — Fido.

Hospitality and vacation rental companies Expedia, AirBnB and Vacasa all say they have seen either spikes in searches for pet-friendly lodging or increases in people booking stays with their pets.

Vacasa, an Oregon-based rental company, reported that Sugar Mountain, N.C., stood at the top of its list of most popular pet-friendly destinations. Folly Beach and Hilton Head Island in South Carolina followed close behind as the third- and fourth-ranked cities, respectively.

“Pets have become part of the family and add to vacation fun, especially for those staying in a vacation rental. Due to COVID-19, we’ve seen increased demand for vacation rentals that have access to the great outdoors and access to water,” Vacasa said in a statement. “According to a recent guest survey, 75% of people want to vacation near a large body of water, which bodes well for the Carolinas.”

Travel may be the next step for pet owners mid-pandemic. For months, veterinarians have reported massive spikes in visits as many people’s attention turned from the outside world to what’s at home, including their furry friends.

Expedia, an online travel booking website, said searches for pet-friendly accommodations were up nearly 22% in August compared to May, while AirBnB said people using the “allows pets” filter jumped 90% in July compared to the same time last year, a trend that has continued past Labor Day.

Vacasa said reservations in pet-friendly units increased by 5% compared to last year. Vacasa also saw a 20% increase in the average amount people spent on pet-friendly rentals this year, rising to $2,209.

Brad Marra, chief operating officer for Hilton Head Island gated community Palmetto Dunes, said most rentals he deals with only offer pet accommodations during the non-summer seasons. However, he’s seen a major increase in interest from people wanting to travel to the island with their pets.

“With kids not going back to school, they come here and do homeschooling at the beach,” said Marra, noting that trend has resulted in longer stays, more money spent and more pets brought along for the trip. “This September, we’ve had triple the revenue than any other September that we could go back and look at.”

The allure of the pet-friendly rental

In the Grand Strand, La Dolce Vita Villas motel in North Myrtle Beach has opened its doors to pets since 2003 and doesn’t charge any additional fees for them. All of the rooms are tiled, ensuring easy cleanup of any unfortunate accidents.

“There are a lot of hotels that are pet friendly, and they have carpeting, and it’s gross,” owner Angela Visalli said. “We sweep, we mop, we use a lot of Clorox and everything. You wouldn’t even know that we are pet-friendly. We have no pet odor in the room.”

Visalli said her motel doesn’t restrict the size or breed of dogs people bring with them. Sometimes, visitors even bring their cats.

Sharon DiBiase recently stayed at La Dolce Vita Villas and said she chose it in part because of how pet friendly the hotel is. From Charlotte, N.C., DiBiase brought her two dogs, Dali and Miss Peat, to North Myrtle Beach where she attended a wedding this week.

“Our friends came down, and they stayed in some of the bigger hotels that have a lot of amenities, but we would rather sacrifice some of the amenities so we can have our pets with us,” DiBiase said, adding that the Villas’ lack of pet fees appealed to her. “I think most pet owners clean up after their pets, take care of their pets. I think it’s nice to not have to pay deposits and do all that to travel with your pets.

“(Hotels) don’t charge extra for a baby, so I don’t think they should charge extra for our babies.”

Major chains like Hilton and Marriott could not provide data on travelers’ interest in pet-friendly hotels and rentals.

However, the pet-friendly resort DoubleTree by Hilton Myrtle Beach Oceanfront said it typically sees 30 to 50 pets each week during late spring, the summer and into the fall. The resort also features a dog park where pets can run around off leash for a bit.

“Just like in everything, we hope people tell us” they brought their pet along, said Stephen Williams, the DoubleTree’s director of marketing and sales. “But a lot of people do not tell us. If we know about it, we will put them in (a tiled, pet-friendly room). If not, we’ll notice the pet, but it doesn’t always mean we are aware of it.”

Thinking of traveling with your pet?

Anyone looking to bring Rover to certain parts of the coast during peak tourist season, though, may find themselves barking up the wrong beach.

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Vacation rental companies saw spikes in interest for pet-friendly lodging in the Carolinas as people travel shorter distances but stay longer. Above, beachgoers enjoy a November sunset in the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle Beach on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. Jason Lee [email protected]

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, many popular coastal cities ban dogs from the beaches. Though, with much of this summer season lost to pandemic-related shutdowns, the fall may be a ripe time to use those vacation days and take Odie and Garfield to the beach or the mountains.

Bringing along the family’s best friend does require some planning, though.

Here are some tips on how to keep the trip from turning hairy — outside of Buddy’s hair, that is — from Lori Teller, a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University.

  • Most dogs love car rides, but owners should stop every few hours to let them stretch their legs and use the bathroom.
  • Inversely, dogs that suffer from anxiety or motion sickness may not be the best candidates for long trips, so boarding may be the better option.
  • Make sure the dog is up-to-date on its vaccines, heartworm preventive medicine and flea and tick treatments. Also, talk to a vet before traveling cross-country, as some areas bring different health risks than others.
  • Check for pet-friendly restaurants or other places anywhere you stop along the way. Pets should never be left alone in the car. Also, find a vet or emergency room at your final destination in case any emergencies arise.
  • As for the pet-friendly rental itself, make sure there’s a safe and easily accessible area for your dog to go out, especially at night.
  • Don’t forget toys!

(Generally, the same rules apply for cats, should you be brave enough to drag them along.)

Ultimately, Teller said trips with pets should be enjoyable, and “if you and your pet are having fun, stay as long as you want to! Just make sure you have enough food medications and other supplies to last the trip.”

For those looking to start a vacation rental, or maybe even open theirs to pets, both AirBnB and Vacasa said those tend to be some of their most popular rentals, with longer stays and people willing to spend more money to bring their pets along.

“Your vacation home will be in higher demand. Less than a quarter of vacation homes in the U.S. allow pets, and we’ve seen a 6% decline this year alone,” Vacasa said. “That means your home will stand out to dog owners, who have a 10% higher likelihood of booking than those who aren’t searching for a pet-friendly rental.”

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Chase Karacostas writes about tourism in Myrtle Beach and across South Carolina for McClatchy. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2020 with degrees in Journalism and Political Communication. He began working for McClatchy in 2020 after growing up in Texas, where he has bylines in three of the state’s largest print media outlets as well as the Texas Tribune covering state politics, the environment, housing and the LGBTQ+ community.

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