Go on holiday without your best friend? For growing numbers of dog owners, it’s unthinkable.
Holiday operators have seen a big jump in guests booking accommodation that accepts dogs in recent months, and the trend is set to accelerate this year.
Haven, which runs 38 holiday parks in the UK, saw bookings for pet-friendly breaks rise by nearly 15% last year, from 74,000 to 85,000, and expects a larger increase in 2024. Smaller operators have reported similar rises.
Campsites and holiday parks are popular options for dog owners looking for long walks, new friends and a relaxed atmosphere, but plenty of B&Bs and even luxury London hotels also now accept dogs, from the Lanesborough by Hyde Park to the Shangri-La in the Shard. About a third of UK properties listed on Booking.com are now listed as “pet-friendly”, and some even allow cats and rabbits.
The holi-dog boom began after dog ownership soared during lockdown. In the first year of the pandemic, 3.2m households acquired a pet, and there are now about 12m dogs in the UK. About 70% of owners take their dog with them on holiday, according to the Dogs Trust.
Michelle Foulia, authorTo me it’s a fad, a fashion. We’ve bought into this idea of dogs being allowed everywhere without consideration to the rest of the public
What is making UK holi-dogs especially popular is that since Brexit it has become expensive and complicated to take a dog to Europe. British pet passports were no longer valid after January 2021, and now, for every trip, dogs need a certificate showing they have been microchipped and vaccinated against rabies, which can cost up to £300 per dog.
Martin Cox, vice-president of the British Holiday and Home Parks Association, said 40% of bookings at his west Dorset holiday parks last year were from guests with dogs, up from 31% in 2022. “More and more people are bringing their dog,” he said. “We’ve also got a dog exercise area – four acres – and we’re looking into doing some dog agility areas so that they’ve got some jumps to do. “There’s probably been an increase in the number of people having dogs over the pandemic period. One of the hidden things Brexit caused is that it’s much more difficult to take your dog into Europe now.”
Simon Palethorpe, managing director of Haven, said the company had invested in more dog-friendly accommodation after seeing the reported rise in dog ownership. “Our reckoning was that there would be an awful lot of families rethinking their vacations,” he said. He expects more than 100,000 dog bookings in 2024.
Haven now accepts dogs at nearly all of its parks and lists dog-friendly beaches nearby. Most of its parks also have “bark-yards”, with obstacle courses. “Often the owners are more enthusiastic about these,” Palethorpe said. “They can be a bit lost on the dog, but it’s a good bit of fun for families.”
Frolicking on the beach with your pet then curling up in front of a pub fire may sound idyllic, but not everywhere is dog-friendly.
This is a good thing, according to Michelle Foulia, a former animal welfare worker and author of a children’s book, Poppy’s Miracle, based on the story of her own rescue dog. Despite her doggy bona fides, Foulia believes too many owners fail to train their dogs properly, which causes distress to neurodivergent people such as her and her daughter.
“To me it’s a fad, a fashion. We’ve bought into this idea of dogs being allowed everywhere without consideration to the rest of the public,” she said. “I have had to leave cafes and meet-ups with friends because of noisy dogs. It’s not that I’m anti-dog; it’s purely that I want to go somewhere and sleep in peace or relax in the garden or in a pub or cafe. But people’s dogs bark at each other, or they’ll be yelping for food.”
She believes establishments should only allow dogs that have completed the Kennel Club’s Good Citizen dog training scheme.
Good operators find a balance between dog and non-dog, according to Vicky Saynor, who founded Bethnal&Bec luxury retreats in Hertfordshire seven years ago with her husband Chris.
“When we went dog-friendly, we quickly learned that there were quite a few people who were no longer going to stay with us,” she said.
“So when we built our third retreat, we made it non-dog. If it was available during the week, we could fill it with people with dogs, but it’s important that places have non-dog areas.”
They apply a dog surcharge to cover the costs of cleaning the rooms for an extra hour after each stay. “Some people are offended by the fact that you have to pay to bring a dog, but we also provide towels, blankets, bowls and poo bags,” she said
The Saynors hadn’t given dogs a second thought until they got their rescue pointer, Hendrix. “We were surprised how limiting it was,” she said. “I travel with my dog a lot now, on business, and I do get irritated that because I’m with Hendrix I get put in the worst room. Some of the bigger brands haven’t thought it through. They say you’re not allowed to leave your dog in your room on its own – which I would never do – but your dog can’t go to the restaurant or bar. How do I do that?”
But it has definitely become easier to find places to stay. “One of my biggest joys is going away and exploring the UK with Hendrix. Which I never did before I had a dog.”