After years of operating council owned caravan parks, in 2015 Sandi-Kate Hutchins and her husband purchased their own park, Prime Pet Friendly Tourist Park in Lakes Entrance, Victoria. The park was run down and only offered a couple of worn cabins to accommodate guests traveling with pets. Over the last four years, Sandi-Kate and her husband have transformed the park. Instead of just tolerating pets, Sandi-Kate and her husband offer special touches to ensure guests travelling with pets feel welcomed.
I caught up with Sandi-Kate for this week’s episode of the ‘That Bad Review’ podcast, to chat about what sets her park apart from other pet friendly accommodation businesses. Sandi-Kate shares some great insights into how they ensure guests have a memorable experience, worth repeating.
Increase in Pet Friendly Tourist Parks
When Sandi-Kate and her husband first took over the park, it had two pet friendly cabins. Despite the cabins out-of-the-way location and condition, they were the most consistently booked accommodation type throughout the whole park. Sandi-Kate saw an opportunity to grow the business and started seeking feedback from guests travelling with pets, in an effort to better understand their needs.
Sandi-Kate discovered there was a growing need for pet friendly accommodation options, mainly due to changes within the family unit. While in the past it was common for people to live within close proximity to extended family, these days families are fractured all over the country. Long distances prevent relations being able to help look after pets during vacations periods. Adding to this is the growing trend of people not getting to know their neighbours. Sandi-Kate points out that once upon a time neighbours could be relied on to clear the mailbox, water the plants and feed the dog. ‘It’s not like that anymore’, she explains.
Sandi-Kate has noticed an increase in dog owners with pets who sleep inside. She has also witnessed within this guest group type, there are people who are willing to pay more for a great experience. ‘They don’t’ want to be shoved down the back of the park in a shabby cabin,’ Sandi-Kate states. Knowing this, Sandi-Kate has increased their range of pet friendly accommodation options to suit all kinds of needs and budgets.
Sandi-Kate has also seen an increase in the number of parks offering pet friendly accommodation. When they moved to Lakes Entrance, there were only two other parks in town that offered accommodation for guests travelling with pets. There are now thirteen. While the number of options in the area has increased, Sandi-Kate says demand has also increased.
Tips for Accommodating Pets
Sandi-Kate likes to personally take guests to their cabins as part of the check in process. This enables her to gauge the level of satisfaction guests have on entering the cabins. And helps determine if the accommodation type suits their needs. Due to a wide range of options, Sandi-Kate likes to ensure guests are happy with their choice. She also likes to be able to give them a chance to change cabins types if necessary.
Sandi-Kate and her team provide treats and a water bowl, ready in the cabins for when guests arrive. They ask guests to bring their own pet bedding and a blanket for the couch, knowing animals like to relax on the lounge with their owners. They have a washing machine dedicated to the cleaning of pet accessories. As well as a newly installed dog wash available for guests. Sandi-Kate and her team also offer a doggie day care service, with kennels located in the yard of the reception building. This care is available during office hours, so that guests can leave their pets at the park and know they are well cared for, while they explore the region.
During our chat Sandi-Kate shares other measures they have in place to ensure a happy and friendly environment for all guests. One of which is a strict on-leash policy. There is however, an off-leash area within the park. It’s a fenced run with lots of space for dogs to run and play. Sandi-Kate explains that they are always looking for ways to improve the guest experience. She suggests that by making guests feel special, not only will they return but they will spread the word among other pet owners. ‘It’s the little things that make a big difference,’ says Sandi-Kate.
Connecting Guests through Music
It’s not all about the pets, Sandi-Kate admits. Sandi-Kate and her husband look for other ways of ensuring guests have a great experience at their park. They have found that offering a dedicated period of time for guests to come together helps with this. So, they host regular happy hours and encourage guests to get involved. These times often include a few drinks, with a campfire if weather permits and a music instrument or two. ‘When people come up to the park, when it’s a pet friendly park, their dogs gives them and introduction to each other and music gives another introduction’, Sandi-Kate says.
Sandi-Kate is learning to play the drums and her husband plays the harmonica. They have instruments on hand for guests to use and enjoy nights sitting around playing music. Guest often share stories about how they played instruments when they were younger, before life got in the way. They might pick up a guitar for the first time in twenty years, with a nostalgic look in their eyes. The best stories continue when months later guests return with the news that they have taken the instrument back up again, travelling with an instrument of their own.
Also, in this week’s podcast
In this episode of the ‘That Bad Review’ podcast, Sandi-Kate and I discuss:
- Being selective when guests don’t fit within your target market
- Different types of guests who travel with pets
- The importance of guests having control over pets
- Tolerating pets verses welcoming pets in accommodation venues
- The changing perspective of guests who travel without pets
- Using social media and feedback to improve your business
- The pros and cons of free camping and its effect on the economy
- Installing eco-friendly products to cater for the evolving market
- How your attitude determines your altitude