Remember Tinkerbell, Foxxy Cleopatra, and Honey? They were Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s iconic furry friends. The world has witnessed a surge in travellers seeking canine companionship and has prompted the question as to how this trend resonates across Asia, particularly amongst the jet-setting elite.
In March of last year, Fifi, a miniature dachshund, captured the hearts of Instagram users worldwide when her owner shared a video of her living the high life in business class during a flight from Hong Kong to Istanbul.
The post went viral, amassing over 400,000 views and 4,000 comments. Netizens flooded the comments section with inquiries and advice-seeking, as one curious traveller wondered, "Does Turkish Airlines allow dogs in business class? Most airlines do not." Another pondered, "Does Fifi need to be registered as an emotional support to do this? I am flying with my dog within the EU, but he's only allowed to be in the bag for the whole period." The owner, responding under the handle @fifilittledarling, clarified, "She isn't a service dog; we asked, and we were lucky."
Despite Fifi's journey being a permanent relocation rather than a vacation, the post generated significant interest from fellow pet owners eager to uncover the secrets of bringing their furry companions on board.
On the other hand, Kanishka Assudani, another Hong Kong-based pet owner, highlighted the substantial costs involved in bringing her dog Snowie from Hong Kong to India. "We went for four years from Hong Kong to Mumbai. However, on our way back, we had to go from Mumbai to China, and we had to organise another mode of transport for him to get to Hong Kong," she explained, citing the need to avoid the lengthy quarantine period mandated by the Hong Kong government due to disease and virus exposure risks. Assudani recommended pet travel for friends but cautioned that it's more suitable for shorter journeys and smaller pets that some airlines allow in cabin.
While pet travel has long been a luxury indulgence, embraced by celebrities like Paris Hilton and others who whisk their animals away on private jets, a new trend is emerging, prompting the question, how is the luxury market adapting to this growing phenomenon in Asia and beyond?
In 2021, Asia Pacific's pet care market soared to US$27.1 billion, exhibiting a robust 11.8% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2016 to 2021, according to Euromonitor. Fueled by a notable increase in the cat and dog population, Asia Pacific stands out as the largest market for these pets, boasting the highest growth rate among all regions at 7.4% CAGR over the same period.
In the wake of COVID-19, hotels in Asia increasingly embraced pet-friendly policies, especially as they encouraged local staycations for residents who wish to book hotels in their hometown without parting ways with their pets. Although some hotels have discontinued their pet-friendly offerings, many establishments maintain or have even enhanced their pet-friendly services.
In Hong Kong, the W Hong Kong stands out with its Furry Friends Fiesta package, specifically crafted to celebrate a pet's birthday within the hotel's cosy confines. The package features a watermelon-flavoured cake for pets, along with dining and spa credits, as well as in-room pet amenities and cleaning services. "We believe that every member of the family should enjoy their stay with us, and this package ensures that pets have a comfortable and memorable experience,” says Matthias Vogt, W Hong Kong’s general manager.
Additionally, Vogt notes a significant uptick in the demand for pet-friendly stays within the hospitality industry in recent years. This trend extends beyond pet birthdays, with an increasing number of establishments incorporating pets into wedding ceremonies. “Many couples want to include the paw buddy in their special day to add a touch of personalisation and create memorable moments, incorporate pet-themed elements into their wedding decor, such as including pet photos in centrepieces or donation to pet related charity,” explains Vogt. What’s more, being located near West Kowloon Cultural District, a pet-friendly attraction with views of the harbour, adds to the appeal. “We specially prepare a Pet Insider Escapes guide, introducing some nearby hotspots for furry friends, for guests to enjoy a Paw-fect stay,” says Vogt.
Meanwhile, at both Eaton HK and Eaton DC, the hotels extend a warm welcome to both cats and dogs. This pet-friendly policy goes beyond mere accommodation in rooms, allowing pets to accompany their owners to the bar, restaurant, and even the coworking space. “We've hosted pet-friendly movie screenings in our Kino cinema and even created a neighbourhood guide to dog parks and dog friendly routes,” explains Harvey Thompson, the Managing Director of Eaton Workshop.
While their Hong Kong outpost has seen an uptick in locals bringing their pets on staycations, Eaton DC sees guests arrive from all over the states. “This is made easier by many airlines allowing pets in-cabin,” adds Thompson, “With the global trend of younger generations like millennials and Gen-Z opting to bring pets into their homes, and being very connected to their furry companions, I can imagine that pet-friendly travel and hospitality is becoming more popular.”
In the Philippines, award-winning wellness retreat The Farm at San Benito is renowned for offering immersive detox and health programmes to nourish the soul. But the hotel understands that pets are also part of the family. “The Farm features 52 hectares of sprawling greenery where pets can enjoy, play, and even encounter peacocks, geese, and ducks,” says Preet Singh, the general manager at The Farm at San Benito. The Farm has gone a step further by organising special activities for pets. This includes offerings such as pet Reiki, facilitated by a visiting energy healing practitioner from Singapore, and pet acupuncture provided by a visiting holistic doctor.
At The Temple House in Chengdu, China, pets are warmly welcomed in the expansive public areas, provided they are on a leash. The hotel goes the extra mile by offering a distinctive pet-only menu in the restaurant. Moreover, the Guest Experience team proactively contacts pet owners before their stay to gain insights into their pet's needs and preferences, ensuring a tailored and thoughtful experience upon arrival. “This ensures that our furry friends can receive personalised care and attention throughout their stay at our hotel,” says Stella Wang, director of marketing and communications at the hotel. Additionally, guests travelling with pets can also enjoy exclusive amenities in the room such as pet food bowls, sleeping mats, and homemade pumpkin and peanut butter biscuits.
Similarly, a pet friendly stay at Dao by Dorsett AMTD Singapore, Dao West London and Shepherd's Bush provides all the necessary amenities and services for a pampered pooch, from toys to food, water bowls and pet beds. The hotel group’s new Dorsett Kai Tak property, set to open in Summer 2024, will offer a pet concierge service. “Pet-friendly weddings will be a major appeal of this luxury property, allowing guests to involve their furry friends in their marriage ceremonies and then enjoy peace of mind by entrusting their pets to our pet concierge while they continue the festivities,” says Anita Chan, Senior Vice President, Global Brand Marketing and Technology and Innovation of Dorsett Hospitality International.
In regions like the UK and the US, where a wider array of pet-friendly hotels is common, establishments like Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London consistently roll out special packages tailored to pet enthusiasts. In October 2023, they introduced the 'Pawfect Stays' accommodation package—an exclusive experience for dogs created in collaboration with Teddy Maximus and Liberty London. This unique offering includes bespoke accessories like a comfortable dog bed, a stylish pooch bag, a bowl, and more. “Our concierge team will offer guests a curated newsletter providing dog friendly tips and recommendations such as a dedicated walking map of all the walks within easy reach,” says the hotel’s Head Concierge, Matthew Jackson. It also launched a special weekend brunch at The Aubrey, where dogs are not just welcomed, but cherished, as they can indulge on a bespoke menu designed exclusively for them.
Jean-Marie Burlet, Head of Guest Relations at Le Bristol Paris has also seen an uptick in demand for pet-friendly stays, so the hotel offers a very special five-star welcome for the whole family, furry friends included. “We are one of the very few Palace hotels in Paris that welcomes ‘properly’ our clients' four-legged friends with embroidered mats, wicker baskets, the offer of custom-made menus by our chefs and birthday cake-like treats” says Burlet.
The personalised touch doesn't end with the hotel stay, “when we find out that some of our patrons have a pet but have not travelled with her or he, we embroider a mat anyway for them to take away and ask them to send us a picture back,” he adds.
Likewise, at The Plaza Hotel in New York, a pet-friendly establishment since its inception in 1907, accommodates pets of all sizes without an additional fee. This stands in contrast to many other hotels that still impose charges for pets. Its Pampered Pup Package includes a Plaza branded dog bathrobe, a doggie-treat-tier brimming with scrumptious macarons, and a refreshing bowl of Evian water and plush bed to rest. “At The Plaza we have always welcomed travellers to stay with up to two of their pets, as we know how important a pet can be to their owner's wellbeing and overall travel experience,” says The Plaza Hotel’s Managing Director Luigi Romaniello.
Is it a local or international demand?
It seems like there’s been a mix of both local and international demand for pet travel.
At The Farm at San Benito, although most of its guests with pets remain local, they have noticed a growing trend of international travellers bringing their pets from the USA and Australia, explains Preet Singh. “In addition to the increased demand, allowing pets presents a great opportunity to generate additional revenue by attracting travellers who wish to spend their holidays with their pets,” adds Singh, “In our upcoming offerings, we plan to include a doggy daycare and pet wellness services for an additional fee.”
In Singapore, Dao by Dorsett sees many guests on relocation with pets. “On average, we see about five pet-friendly stays in a month and for extended stays or monthly leases, we have guests from the UK and Australia,” explains Anita Chan. “The influence of social media also plays a big role, as sharing pet-related content on social media platforms has contributed to the normalisation of including pets in lifestyle activities.”
However, there is still room for growth, possibly attributed to the stringent regulations and restrictions on pet travel, which can be perceived as expensive or cumbersome for a brief stay. Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London’s Matthew Jackson concurs. “While we have seen a rise in domestic guests choosing to travel with their dogs, we have observed fewer overseas visitors with furry companions,” he says, adding that “This could be attributed to the regulatory requirements that pet owners face when bringing their pets from abroad.”
Similarly at W Hong Kong, the demand for pet-friendly stays mainly comes from local customers. “Travellers who bring their pets tend to be the ones who move into HK for living.”
The Temple House has noted that the demand for pet-friendly stays has been consistent, with a significant portion of guests coming from Sichuan province. “These guests typically seek the companionship of their pets during a short city staycation in Chengdu,” adds Wang, “Most of our pet-friendly stays involve domestic guests who want to enjoy the unique experience with their furry companions.”
Le Bristol Paris’ Burlet says there has “definitely been more demand” for pet-friendly stays – and they’re coming from all over, mostly mainland Europe but also from the UK and from the United States. “Some of our clients consider their pets to be like their children, particularly if they have no children of their own, and they love to take them where they are treated nicely, as if they were real human beings almost,” he adds.
Rosewood Bangkok hasn’t noticed much change in comparison. “We received only a few inquiries once a month, seemingly the demand is getting low as we have not recently received the inquiries for a couple months,” says a rep from the hotel. “Mostly the pet inquiries are from domestic customers. Only one overseas customer has ever stayed with us, and they were from China.” They believe that the trend is decreasing. “We see the trend is dramatically dropping, from my point of view, pet-friendly travel was popular during and right after the pandemic, but once everything went back to normal, I noticed the trend to bring pets along has slowed.”
While not all commercial flights are accommodating to pets, a limited number of airlines, such as American Airlines, JetBlue, and Hawaiian Airlines in the US, along with Air France, Air Canada, and Turkish Airlines, do allow pets on board. Alternatively, affluent pet owners opt for private jets, which offer enhanced comfort and ample space. K9Jets, for instance, offers a dedicated pay-by-seat private jet service for a personalised pet travel experience.
“This is a stress-free experience so our customers' four-legged family members can travel with them in the cabin, with no size restrictions and no crates,” shares a rep from the company. Launching in March 2023, the demand has increased by the day. “During Covid, there was a huge increase in the number of pets. Customers no longer want their pets/family members to travel in the cargo hold, they desire a stress-free option which we cater for,” they add. With aspirations to broaden its reach to Asia, there are potential plans for new routes, including a possible connection between Hong Kong and London in the latter half of 2024.
They have a lot of enquiries from Singapore too, they add. “The majority of our customers are relocating for work, there has been a huge increase in relocations post Covid globally, including Asia, however, also travelling for leisure too.”.
“The noticeable uptick in customers travelling with their pets mirrors a global surge in pet ownership,” says Sarah Keates, founder of WOI and specialist in communications for the business aviation and private jet sector. “This trend is particularly pronounced among first-time private jet customers, a demographic that has found solace in the flexibility and hygienic environment offered by charter flights, especially during disruptions caused by the pandemic.”
Asia, however, has room to grow. “In countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand, where pet-friendly facilities and services are more readily available, travellers find a welcoming environment for themselves and their pets,” says Keates.