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Beth Stultz

Events Going to the Dogs? Two Ways to Accommodate Pet Lovers at Special Events

Catering to pet owners can boost event satisfaction—and a dog (or cat) might just be your missing ingredient for a successful event.

With 68 percent of U.S. households owning a pet, chances are the majority of your potential event attendees are pet owners. So, this is not a demographic you can ignore during your planning process or in your event promotions.

While pet-friendly policies may be commonplace for events within the pet industry, event and meeting professionals working within other industries and sectors can also capitalize on our love affair with pets to put on innovative events and create event promotions to appeal to a larger audience. So, how can your event planning go to the dogs?

1. Plan a pet-friendly event.
The first step in planning a pet-friendly event is booking a pet-friendly meeting venue and identifying pet-friendly lodging options for attendees, if necessary. Websites such as Bring Fido offer a worldwide directory of properties that allow pets, and hotel chains such as Kimpton, Aloft and Red Roof Inn are known for pet-friendly policies.

If attendees will be bringing their pets along, it’s important to clearly communicate the event venue’s policies (e.g., breed restrictions, types of pets allowed, etc.) in all event materials, and to also have event-specific policies established and communicated to attendees. A common policy is requiring all dogs to be on leash at the event.

Having professional pet sitters on-site to offer dog walks or to even set up a “dog park” at the event can help ensure that pet-owning attendees are able to participate fully in the event with the peace of mind that their pets are being cared for. Pet Sitters International offers the largest online directory of professional pet-sitters and dog walkers, and a quick ZIP/postal code search can help you identify local service providers in your conference location.

If a “dog park” with attendants to care for attendees’ dogs while they are in sessions or at special events is not an option, be sure to note in your event agenda which events and sessions will be open to dogs. Also, be sure to check with your venue, as some pet-friendly locations still have specific areas--such as restaurants and dining spaces--that are off limits to pets.

A pet-friendly event allows you to be creative with event souvenirs and affinity gifts as well. Consider distributing customized, branded poop bag dispensers to attendees, or offering off-site events that cater to attendees with pets. Even if your event’s focus is not pet-related, adding a “lunch and learn” to the event agenda that addresses an important pet-related topic--such as pet first aid or tips for improving the human-pet bond--can add value to the event for attendees and possibly attract new event sponsors.

2. If your event’s not Fido-friendly, be a resource.
Even planners who are not planning events at pet-friendly properties can benefit from sharing information about selecting professional pet-sitters. By sharing information with potential attendees in event promotions, you are able to address a possible deterrent to event registration and provide would-be attendees with a solution for pet care, so they can travel to an event or conference with the peace of mind that their pets are in good hands.

Address this potential deterrent upfront in your event promotions and offer solutions. Consider including tips for selecting a professional pet-sitter in your conference promotions to prospective attendees who will need to travel for the event. If possible, you might even consider offering a conference discount or voucher that attendees can apply towards pet-sitting fees while they attend the event.

Pets have been shown to increase productivity, reduce stress, and foster creativity and collaboration in work settings. But, if allowing attendees to bring pets to your event is not an option, finding fun ways to incorporate pets into the event can be an unexpected—but well-received—addition. If the venue will allow it, consider hosting a surprise puppy break with puppies and/or kittens brought in from a local shelter or pet-rescue organization to surprise attendees.

If live animals are prohibited, ask attendees to send photos of their pets in advance and find ways to incorporate the photos into the event décor or materials (e.g., program guide, event signage, etc.). If pre-event surveys reveal that the majority of your attendees are pet owners, you may consider finding ways to incorporate a charitable component into your event, such as a charity auction or pet-supplies donation drive, to benefit a local pet-related charity in your host city.

A word of caution:
Before planning a pet-friendly event, it’s important to do your homework on your attendees. While pet-friendly events can be wildly successful, you must poll attendees to determine if anyone has severe pet allergies or phobias. If so, incorporating pet photos or a similar effort will be a better option than allowing pets on-site. Additionally, check with your insurance provider to determine any restrictions or liability limits to your event coverage should pets be included.

But, whether you are able to plan a pet-friendly event or just host attendees who will leave their pets at home, you can show off your expertise and benefit greatly by partnering with a professional pet-sitting company or directing pet-owning attendees to one. And when you make the pet owners happy, they’ll be sure to sit, stay and come back to your next event!

Beth Stultz is the vice president of marketing and operations and the event planner for Pet Sitters International, the world’s largest educational association for professional pet sitters and dog walkers. She is also the national spokesperson for Take Your Dog To Work Day.

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