Spike in travelers porting animals on vacation calls for expanded beach time

(Nov. 22, 2019) Business owners and the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association have one message to Ocean City officials: allow pets on the beach for longer. 

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Business owners in Ocean City want to see the months pets are allowed on the beach, like Luna pictured here, extended to promote business in the resort.

“In the whole month of May and September, kids are in school and the beach is empty, and I always thought it would be a good time for pet owners to enjoy the improving weather with their dogs on the beach,” said Adam Showell Jr., chief operations officer of Castle in the Sand, following up on the lodging industry’s recommendation to the Tourism Commission last week.

The pet season expansion effort bases itself on studies showing an increasing market of pet-owning travellers. 

An American Pet Products Association survey showed 67 percent of American households own a pet, which roughly amounts to 84.9 million homes. 

Fifty-three percent of travellers take their pets along for the ride, and more than half of those travellers will only stay in pet-friendly accommodations, TripAdvisor found.

“Guests would always email us, ‘I wish my dog could come on the beach in September. It’s a shame I’d be willing to come back,’ and our hands are tied,” Showell said. 

He also said while Castle in the Sand on 3701 Atlantic Ave. does not allow pets, one of its branch properties, the Barefoot Mailman on 35th Street, does. 

As Susan Jones, executive director of the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, told the Tourism Commission last week, there was a time when only four hotels allowed guests to book rooms with their pets. Now, more than 20 hotels take in pets. 

“Every year it seems like that’s a market that’s just expanding,” Showell said. “Pet owners, their demographic is a good demographic for Ocean City — they have disposable income. They’re willing to come here and spend some money in our town and fill hotel rooms.”

What hoteliers would like to see is a pet season after Labor Day in September, and end the season right before Memorial Day in May. 

Pets would be allowed on the beach from 33rd Street and north from Sunday through Thursday. 

“The reason we chose that is because Ocean City in May and September does really well with their special events like Bike Week, car show weekends, Endless Summer Cruisin’ — we identified a need during the weekdays to promote business and increase guests coming to visit our island … [but] there’s no need to overreach,” Showell said.

Showell also pointed out that of its competitors, such as Virginia Beach, Dewey, Rehoboth in Delaware and Myrtle Beach, Ocean City has the second most restrictive pet policy. 

However, business owners do realize that the effort is not as simple as it sounds. 

“There’s nothing more enjoyable than taking your pet on to the beach,” said Danny Robinson, owner of Backshore Brewing Company and Hammerheads Bar & Grill located at 10th Street and the Boardwalk. “With that said, you also have to be respectful of people — not everyone likes dogs like I do. It’s one of those things where you try to make everybody happy, but when you try to make everybody happy you make nobody happy.”

For Robinson, it all boils down to responsibility. 

“You have to clean up after their mess and you have to control them,” he said. “From experience as a pet-friendly business owner, people’s pets are more behaved than their children are. It’s a tough call, but at the end of the day I would be okay with extending [the season].”

To Showell, the decision city officials should make was an easy one. 

“The weekdays, with kids in school and people working, it’s tough, so where can we possibly increase our business? People with pets really are no-brainer,” Showell said.

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