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Japan’s Pet-Friendly Hotels: Something to Howl About
By Brad Frischkorn

Pet-friendly hotels have become a global cottage industry over the last several years. This is no less true than in Japan, where pets are often treated like family members.

The trend is not surprising in light of the rapid growth of pet ownership around the world. The total number of pets kept in the U.S., for example, has swelled to around 202 million, and to about 106 million for No. 2 Brazil, according to various sources. In terms of per capita ownership, Australia is the runaway leader, with 38 million domesticated critters kept by its 24 million citizens, for an average of almost 1.6 per person.

Japan is no slouch, however, particularly considering its relatively small livable land area. The 21 million pets kept by its 126 million people include about 12 million dogs and 7.3 million cats.

To service all of these animals, Japanese spent about $10 billion in 2009 (versus about $45 billion for the U.S.), 70% of that figure on non-food and basic supply items.

“Like the American pet market, the Japanese pet market is proving to be recession-resistant,” according to Nippon Zenyaku Kogyo Co., Ltd. (ZENAOQ), which sells medical supplies and animal health products to veterinarians.

Pet ownership is not only on the rise; it has also become a luxury market. “The humanization of pets, the human/animal bond, and pet owners’ dedication to their pets’ health, have all contributed to a new trend that is driving growth in the industry: the premium pet product shopper,” according to Market Research.com analysts.

In Japan, these include spa services for pets -- especially dogs -- such as massages and facials, self-serve washes, pet funerals, and specialty products for senior pets, including wheelchairs.

“The upwardly-trending value of pet care products and services overseas is reflective of how Japanese have always felt about keeping animals at home,” says Atsushi Saito, business development manager at Resort Frontier, an 18-year old hospitality and resort facilities operator. “Demographics are most likely part of it; Japan’s birth rate is really low, and pets benefit as a result.”

Resort Frontier runs a network of 16 time-share type facilities around Japan, and sports about 12,400 members. Its prime properties include rooms in Izu Peninsula, Hakone, Karuizawa, and elsewhere, with most located around the Kanto (Tokyo) Area.

In all, the company hosts over 40,000 guests per year at its rooms, with a growing number of them outfitted to handle members who wish to take their pets with them on vacation, according to Mr. Saito.

“Pet-friendly facilities need special waterproofing, odor-protection, and ample play space for animals, etc. so we strictly divide them for our members. But demand remains constant.”

The company mostly treats dogs, cats, and rabbits, in that order, but also caters to the occasional ferret and goat, he adds.

While Resort Frontier’s business is confined to its Japanese membership, plenty of other pet-friendly facilities exist around the country, and many of them can be found on international listing services, such as BringFido.com, an online booking agent that sports a directory that includes 25,000 pet-friendly hotels in more than 150 countries.

Hotels.com says that a quarter of the 325,000 hotels it lists around the world allow people to check in with their pets.

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“Demographics are most likely part of the upwardly-trending value of pet care products and services; Japan’s birth rate is really low, and pets benefit as a result.” -- Atsushi Saito

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