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Pet Hotels Struggling to Keep Up with Demand from Holidaying Owners

With pet ownership now at record levels among the more affluent mainland families, the country's pet-boarding sector currently lacks the capacity to house all of the domestic animals that need care and attention during public holidays.

Photo: Purr-fection: Premium premises for the most cossetted of cats.
Purr-fection: Premium premises for the most cossetted of cats.
Photo: Purr-fection: Premium premises for the most cossetted of cats.
Purr-fection: Premium premises for the most cossetted of cats.

Introducing a pet into the family home has never been more popular on the mainland. Inevitably, this has seen demand soar for a range of related products and services, including specialist foods, vets and boarding facilities.

According to market research commissioned by goumin.com, a Beijing-based pet-services portal, 17% of mainland households were home to a pet in 2017, a 2% year-on-year rise that took the total to 59.12 million families. Over the same period, spending on pet supplies and services totalled RMB134 billion (US$21 billion), with this figure expected to grow to RMB188.5 billion by 2020.

While the range of pet foods and the number of practicing vets have both expanded considerably, the pet-boarding sector is noticeably less well-developed. With Chinese New Year approaching – a peak travel period for many families – this shortage of temporary, curated accommodation for pets has become clearly apparent. In Guangzhou, as in a number of other mainland cities, many affluent pet owners are struggling to find proper facilities for their four-legged family members.

With demand so clearly outstripping supply, the pet-boarding sector is seen as having huge growth potential. There has also been a fundamental change among boarding-service providers. While once the service was a low-key add-on offered by veterinary hospitals and pet-grooming salons, the sector is now being driven by pet hotels and dedicated animal-boarding facilities.

Huge Demand

Essentially, boarding facilities target the growing number of families that need a temporary home for their pets while they are travelling or otherwise occupied. Typically, such demand peaks over the Chinese New Year period.

In Guangzhou, as is the case with many of the mainland's other large cities, there are already a number of pet-boarding facilities in operation, including Miaoerdaifu, which specifically caters for cats. When asked if it had any vacancies over the CNY period, however, it said it had been fully booked since the October 2017 National Day holiday.

Slightly better news came from the Chongba pet hotel, which opened for business last year. Set in Guangzhou's prosperous Haizhu district, it confirmed it still had a few luxury rooms left as of the end of January this year. All of its more popular forms of accommodation, however, were already fully booked at that point.

According to Guo Liyan, one of Chongba's managers, the company conducted extensive research prior to opening its first pet hotel. In particular, this focused on those mainland cities with a high level of pet-related spend, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chengdu. Significantly, this flagged up the problem families face in finding proper care facilities for their pets when holidays are planned. It also showed that young people who live on their own also required such a service as cover for business trips and other travel obligations.

Confirming that demand for pet care peaks during public holidays, most notably National Day and CNY, Gao said booking well in advance was essential at such times. Underlining this, staff at Chonghuaili, a pet salon in Guangzhou's Liwan district, said all CNY places had been booked since the end of January.

Photo: Canine comfort: Chongba’s presidential pooch palace.
Canine comfort: Chongba's presidential pooch palace.
Photo: Canine comfort: Chongba’s presidential pooch palace.
Canine comfort: Chongba's presidential pooch palace.
Photo: Book early: A Guangzhou pet-boarding facility.
Book early: A Guangzhou pet-boarding facility.
Photo: Book early: A Guangzhou pet-boarding facility.
Book early: A Guangzhou pet-boarding facility.

High-end Bespoke Services

At the high end of the boarding sector, pets enjoy a distinctly pampered lifestyle. Typically, they are housed in specially designed accommodation, complete with air purifiers, air-conditioning, humidifiers, speakers and bathing facilities. While there, they are served high-quality food, while also being regularly exercised and groomed.

Unlike most facilities, which charge according to the size and weight of the animal to be boarded, Chongba bases its fees on the type of accommodation specified. In total, the company offers four different grades of boarding facility – luxury rooms, deluxe suites, super luxury rooms and even a presidential suite. Even a small dog – one weighing 5 kg or less – is eligible to stay in the presidential suit, however, just as long as its owner is willing to meet the costs.

The fees range from RMB158 per day for a luxury room to RMB500 per day for the presidential suite. Any pet fortunate enough to be housed in the latter, will find its quarters fitted out with a brand-name sofa, personal feeding utensils, high-definition live video streaming, heating / cooling facilities, a humidity-control unit and a distilled water source. In addition to its statutory two daily meals (all consisting of high-quality imported pet food), these particularly pampered pets also get afternoon tea, as well as regular walks and play sessions.

Upon check-in, each pet is assigned to its personal quarters and introduced to the handler who will care for it for the duration of its stay. At all times, all of the guest animals are kept separate in order to minimise the risk of infection and to ensure there is no danger of injury from any fights.

The Miaoerdaifu cat hotel has a similar policy with regard to keeping its guests apart. While lodging there, each favoured feline has access to its own imported drinking fountain, while a smart air purifying unit optimises its immediate environment. There is even a smart hi-fi system in place, which continually plays music specially designed to comfort away-from-home cats. The accommodation on offer is divided into deluxe and villa categories, with the latter costing RMB128 a day during non-peak periods and RMB188 a day during public holidays.

In addition to regular daily feeds, absentee owners can also specify particular care regimes, with records kept of food and drink intake, as well as micturition and defecation levels. All of this information is subsequently forwarded to the owner. At both Chongba and Miaoerdaifu, all guest rooms are fitted with a webcam as standard, allowing owners to check in on their pets via a smartphone app at any time of the day or night.

Chongba also runs a coaching programme for any owners looking to train their dogs. In addition, it offers a free pick-up and delivery service for any pets living within 20 km of its premises.

Admission Restrictions and Exotic Pets

Most pet-boarding service providers have strict criteria regarding which animals they will accept. Chongba, for instance, does not cater for dogs that are less than six months old and also excludes any that show signs of impaired mental capacity. In the former case, this is because many younger dogs have not been comprehensively vaccinated and may have weak immune systems, and could also have difficulty adapting to new environments. In the latter case, such dogs are excluded as they are highly susceptible to illness.

Photo: Dezheng North Road: The Guangzhou thoroughfare known as “Pets’ Street”.
Dezheng North Road: The Guangzhou thoroughfare known as “Pets' Street”.
Photo: Dezheng North Road: The Guangzhou thoroughfare known as “Pets’ Street”.
Dezheng North Road: The Guangzhou thoroughfare known as “Pets' Street”.

Overall, all pets must undergo a health check before being accepted for boarding, while their owners must also present the relevant vaccination records. While internal and external deworming will be carried out, only demonstrably healthy pets are accepted at most facilities.

In addition to cats and dogs, there is also growing demand for boarding services for the more exotic pets, such as hamsters, lizards and even spiders. While currently not operating suitable facilities, Gao said Chongba would consider extending its services should the level of demand merit it.

Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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