Pets live it up in the lap of luxury
Demand for hospitality services grows as number of Chinese travelers surges
A doctor tries to inject medications and fluid replacement into the blood of a dog in a pet hospital in Shenyang city, northeast China's Liaoning province, 15 November 2017. [File Photo: IC]
While most of the country's workers enjoy a welcome break in May, those working in pet hotels will barely have a chance to draw breath.
Every holiday means a heavy workload for people working at pet hotels. As most families can't take their pets on holiday with them, a place in a pet hotel can be hard to find during peak times.
"During National Day Holiday and Spring Festival, our resort was fully booked, because we only have 68 guest rooms-although it is a relatively large hotel in the industry," said Li Chen, founder of Cute Beast Pet Resort, a high-end pet hotel of about 5,000 square meters in Beijing, which was established in 2017.
The room charges are almost the same as a regular hotel, with the cheapest costing 158 yuan ($23) per day for a small breed, and more than 300 yuan for bigger breeds. The VIP room, which has a TV set and more space, comes with additional charges.
But the prices don't deter pet owners and Chen said during the Labor Day holiday rooms were sold out two weeks in advance, and the VIP option was among the most popular.
According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, in 2018, domestic travel reached 5.54 billion journeys, up 10.8 percent year-on-year, while outbound travel topped 291 million, up 7.8 percent year-on-year.
Meanwhile, pet ownership has been rising steadily in China, from 59.12 million pets in 2017 to 73.55 million in 2018, up 24 percent year-on-year, according to an industry report released by Goumin.com, the country's biggest online pet community.
The rise in both pet ownership and travel is increasing demand for hospitality services.
"In 2018, the pet market was worth 172.2 billion yuan, more than triple that of 2013," said Neil Wang, president of consultancy Frost & Sullivan. "Of which, the dog market was 98.5 billion yuan and for cats it was 60.2 billion yuan."
According to Frost & Sullivan's research, services counted for about 15 percent of the pet dog and cat market, totaling 24.1 billion yuan.
As pet hotel services are in hot demand, the industry has been upgrading to assure pet owners of the safety of their four-legged friends. And some business owners such as Li have taken things a step further, making sure that it's not only the owners who are happy, but the pets, as well.
Li said many pet owners worry that there is no comfortable place for their best friends to stay.
"Traditional pet centers can harm pets by keeping them in spaces that are too small, especially big breeds, which can't even turn around," she said. "Pets can also see guests going in and out of the facility, and that can frighten them, as well.
Akita and Shiba Inu puppies are pictured during Shanghai International Pet Expo 2018 (SIPE 2018) at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition & Convention Center in Shanghai, China, 8 April 2018. [File Photo: IC]
"Now, the consumption power of the post-80s generation is on the rise, and that of the post-90s generation is also catching up. With easy access to information, we care not only about the food our pets eat, but also their mental health."
Whatever an owner wants for a pet, Li has got. Apart from individual rooms of five to six square meters for each pet, the resort offers facilities such as an indoor swimming pool, a party room, lots of chewable toys, a dessert area and a pet cinema.
To make sure every guest happy during their stay, the resort offers a special place for old pets and rooms with yards for animals to run around. The resort also plays standup comedy and music in the background to create an environment with human voices in it.
"We offer a service like a kindergarten to prevent pets from getting bored," she said. "They can socialize with other pets, go to a cinema showing films for dogs, or participate in social and sports courses."
"The resort is just the start," said Li. "China will be the country with the biggest pet ownership. And the hospitality service is a necessity for the market, and there is big potential. We aim to cultivate a local brand of premium service for pets."
However, Li said as a business with a relatively low entry barrier, accidents can happen due to a lack of professional knowledge. Indeed, many pet hotels provide fancy services such as pet swimming courses, but the qualifications of staff members are sometimes inadequate as the business is not strictly regulated.
Last month, a French bulldog drowned in a pet center in Quanzhou in Fujian province during a swimming lesson. The lack of basic knowledge to tell if the dog was struggling led to a tragedy that saddened internet users.
"It was heartbreaking news …before letting dogs swim, a simple health exam is needed and its medical history should be checked. Dogs with epilepsy and cardiopulmonary problems should not be allowed to swim," said Zhang Xu, a vet who owns a clinic in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.
Even veterinary hospitals offering boarding services can be a problem in some cities like Beijing as current regulations prohibited them from doing so.
"Instead of saying we don't have regulations for pet boarding businesses, I would say we do have them, but there are still gaps in our current regulatory policies," said Kong Jing, a consultant with the Chinese Pet Products Association.
"We have developed a series of industry regulations, but it is relatively hard to supervise their execution, as the process often requires cooperation of multiple departments. Moreover, detailed guidelines in certain areas, such as whether a pet boarder is qualified, are still lacking," Kong said.