In the PR business, you’re always looking for ways to make your client top dog. To do just that, Black Ink PR recently teamed with Visit San Luis Obispo County to conduct what we believe is the first-ever media tour directed exclusively toward dog-friendly travel.
What inspired us to try a tour designed for dogs? It all started during Black Ink PR’s first brainstorming meeting with the county’s tourism office, Visit San Luis Obispo County, when Board Chair Noreen Martin of Martin Resorts – who had recently made most of her county properties pet-friendly – invited my Basset Hound Onslow to join us on our next site visit. I was amazed by how fun it was to travel with my dog. As we watched a presentation about the City of Pismo Beach’s new dog-friendly ad campaign, I whispered to Visit San Luis Obispo County’s Executive Director Stacie Jacob, “Hey, we should do a dog-friendly media tour. Everywhere I’ve visited here seems pet-friendly. I don’t think any tourism office has ever done it before. Are you game?”
The idea was risky, but Visit San Luis Obispo County jumped in with both feet, and the first dog-friendly media tour was a resounding success. We’ve since received social media accolades from all over the world. The journalists were excited to be part of something new. They offered many suggestions and we learned a lot about the personalities of dogs and their owners. We also picked up some behind-the-scenes tips on how to make future dog-friendly media tours even more successful.
How the Dog Travel Industry is Changing and Growing
Although 30 million Americans have traveled with their pets over the past three years, the travel industry is still learning how to cater to this market’s unique needs while maintaining the comfort levels of allergic and pet-shy guests. To tap into this huge market, more and more of San Luis Obispo County’s hotels and attractions are treating dogs like their human guests – welcoming them instead of just tolerating their presence, and offering special amenities and treats. And today’s pet travelers are asking for more – 78% stay at a hotel because of pet-friendly policies.
We hosted six journalists (and their pups, of course!) representing media outlets from dog-centric blogs to general travel publications, and pooch sizes from Chihuahua to Pit mix. The county’s pet-friendly venues were a hit with this group. The SeaCrest OceanFront Resort in Pismo Beach provided a “Celebrity Pet Package,” five grassy acres, and beach access. We found more wide lawns and ocean views at the Best Western Plus Cavalier Oceanfront Resort in San Simeon. Even San Luis Obispo’s Museum of Art is dog-friendly.
The group loved dining in so many highly-rated restaurants reflecting the county’s farm-to-fork, wine-focused community, such as Robin’s in artsy Cambria, and Thomas Hill Organics in Paso Robles town square. The deliciously sustainable dinner at Luna Red in San Luis Obispo also featured specially baked gourmet dog biscuits for four-pawed snacking.
We knew going into this event that adding dogs to the mix would be a logistical challenge. What did we learn from traveling with a group of canines on the first-ever dog-friendly media tour?
Transportation: Moving dogs together as a group is not easy, but traveling separately created issues, too. When you must travel as a group, leave plenty of extra room for pets, their guardians, and luggage.
Rest/Feed time: Feeding times and rest needs can vary, so we’ll build more free time into our next itinerary.
Pet Sitting: So that everyone could visit the magnificent historic landmark Hearst Castle, we hired some of the area’s renowned pet sitters to watch the dogs as a group. Not everyone was comfortable with the doggie day camp approach, so next time we’ll also budget for individual pet sitters.
Everyone raved about the Bay Cruisers tiki boat ride. How many pups back home at the dog park can say they’ve sailed the waves of peaceful Morro Bay, sniffed out sea otters and sea lions, and explored the sandspit near famous Morro Rock? After the boat ride, we and our crew of canines were welcomed by the resident yellow Labradors at fun and funky Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant.
Beach Butlerz’ catered moonlight bonfire on Grover Beach was another tour standout, complete with furnished cabana, glow-in-the-dark bocce ball, and a teepee for chillaxing. A run on the beach helped the dogs relieve stress and created harmony.
Ecluse Winery treated guests to a barrel tasting and an introduction to the winery’s blind dog mascot, Toby, the inspiration for Ecluse’s Blind Dog label. The dogs were so instinctively gentle with Toby it brought tears to our eyes, but we had to smile again when some of the pups stood on their hind legs in the tasting room, hoping for a sip!
One of the most heartwarming developments was watching the dogs become a pack. To help overcome early tensions, we took time for introductions, obligatory sniffing, and group walks. A few dog whisperers on the tour helped calm the nervous dogs and within hours they’d become fast friends.
The journalists were particularly impressed by the warm welcome our group received wherever we went. The commercial venues couldn’t have been more accommodating, and the swag bags full of high-quality locally made dog goodies (special thanks to Cloud Star) were a wonderful surprise.
But it was the special attention we received from everyone in the hospitality industry and from city officials and tourism representatives throughout the county that convinced us: dog-friendly travel is only going to get better for all of us.
We’re hoping news of this tour sparks a new trend in group travel with pets. For more information, check out our Treat Your Dog to Pure Play in San Luis Obispo County Brochure at sanluisobispocounty.com
Jeanne Sullivan (Jeanne@Blackinkpr.com) is a public relations consultant with more than 20 years of experience in travel and hospitality marketing and communications. She is the proud owner of Onslow, a seven-year-old Basset Hound.
Main article photo by: courtesy Visit San Luis Obispo County