Erin Boyd used to struggle to find places she could visit for the weekend with her beloved labrador, Blue. "I would find B&Bs or hotels that were great with dogs, but where I wouldn't choose to go if I didn't have a dog," she explains. "Then there were other places that said they accepted dogs but didn't really welcome them, where you might have to use the service entrance."
Fed up with these inconsistencies, last year Boyd set up Chien Bleu, Britain's first travel agency devoted to travelling with your dog. Six months on, she is preparing to expand internationally. Chien Bleu evolved from Boyd's hunch that she wasn't the only dog-owner who enjoyed travel but didn't want to leave their dog behind in kennels. Her research into the pet market bore this out.
Britain has long been known as a nation of animal-lovers, but the boom in the pet "pamper" market is astonishing. Euromonitor International said last year:"Demand is growing for pet-friendly holiday packages and facilities. It is definitely a niche market to watch as pet power becomes the new pester power."
The UK pet-travel market is set to increase by 6 per cent year on year for the next five years, with dogs making up 80 per cent of the market.
More Th>* Pet Insurance found that more than half of British dog-owners would be happy to pay for their pets to stay in a hotel; almost half say that it's too hard to find dog-friendly accommodation. According to Late rooms.com, bookings at pet-friendly hotels went up by 132 per cent between 2010 and 2011, and establishments are wising up to the trend and considering how they can better provide for their four-legged guests.
Advice on dog walks, canine welcome packs and pet-minding services are some of the extras that might be on offer.
Chien Bleu caters for all types of clients, from young couples to the wealthy and the high-powered, placing them in accommodation that Boyd and Blue have both visited and vetted personally.
The rest is up to the client. Typically, says Boyd, they're after advice on walks in the area and a good pub to stop at for lunch. She gets the odd rescue call from someone who has a wedding and needs a pet-sitter, but most people take their dogs away because they want to spend time with them.
Established players in the travel market are also exploring the power of the paw pound. Sawdays has had a "dog-friendly" search button on its website for years and recently published Dog-friendly Breaks in Britain.
"It just seemed logical to publish a book," explains founder Alastair Sawday. "We had so many dog-friendly places on our website and in our books that it was easy to find enough for a book just for dog-owners. "The first print run sold out within a couple of months. It looks as though we will do a third printing. We are already being approached by new owners to see if we will be doing a second edition."
Sawday and Boyd agree on the principal requirement of their clientele. "It sounds simple," says Sawday, "but dog-owners want to know that their dog is truly welcome. It is not unusual for a place to advertise itself as dog-friendly, only to confine dogs to the car. All of our places offer something special, warm, individual and authentic and are included because we like them."
Boyd has noticed a few hotels that are really pushing their pet-loving credentials, with special menus and a concierge. "These are the sorts of places that are very savvy," she says. "They're offering extras for a good reason."
France has always been more relaxed with dogs and they are often allowed into hotels, restaurants and shops. Sawday imagines there will be a book on dog-friendly France in the future, while Boyd is working on expanding Chien Bleu across Europe and her native North America this year.
Pet traffic between Britain, continental Europe and the rest of the world should continue to increase because the pet passport regulations, a requirement to enter the UK with an animal, were recently relaxed.
"I have North American friends who would come to Europe with their dog but stay out of the UK because of the passport restrictions," says Boyd, who has recently joined up with a US business, Sit 'n' Stay, that organises flight attendants for pets on privately chartered jets. If you are thinking about putting your pooch on a plane, check the small print carefully, as different airlines offer very different services. Boyd has had a good experience with British Airways, where she was able to track Blue on his flight across the Atlantic.
And if you're not convinced that dogs are great potential clients for the hotel industry, check out the pictures of Martha Stewart, who last month treated her chow chow Genghis Khan to a night at the New York Plaza hotel. When Stewart went to the restaurant for afternoon tea, GK sat at the table, in his own chair and with his own crockery and his own special food.
Pet passports: the lowdown
The rigid vaccination rules for animals entering the UK are to prevent the spread of rabies.
The regulations for dogs and cats have been relaxed because rabies has been all but eradicated in the UK. Quarantine dates back to the 1800s and the new rules bring us into line with the rest of the EU.
Before 2012, Britain's pet-passport rules were much stricter than the rest of Europe's. Animals had to be vaccinated against rabies six months before travelling and have a blood test to prove the vaccine has been effective.
Under the new rules, animals need to be vaccinated only 21 days before travelling, and the blood test, for which vets charge up to £100, has been scrapped altogether.
However, all pets still need to be microchipped under the pet passport scheme.
The new rules only apply to EU and listed non-EU countries. If you are travelling outside of Europe, check with your vet or Defra well in advance.