TRIBUNE CONTENT | My Dog Would Like a Bottle of Your Finest Bourbon
By Greg Schwem —
I recently received a concise text message that, depending on your affection for canines, was adorable or unbelievable:
“Sorry, I can’t meet tonight. I have a swim class…for my dog. She is spoiled.”
“She” and her owner are exactly the types of travelers Harvest Hosts CEO Joel Holland has on his radar.
Holland, 38, purchased the 13-year-old travel membership network from its original owners in 2018. Aimed at “self-contained” travelers (aka campers and RV-ers,) Harvest Hosts partners with thousands of farms, wineries, breweries and other unique destinations only too happy to host camping vehicles ranging from your basic fifth-wheel to your tricked out Airstream, for a night. Occupants, and their pets, pay no camping fees; instead they are sort of on the honor system to purchase products — perhaps a wine club membership or a bottle of homemade bourbon — their gracious hosts are selling.
“We recommend a $30 purchase. But it’s not a requirement,” Holland said. People are very generous and tend to spend $50. That turns into $50 million that goes back into these small businesses.”
Harvest Hosts takes none of those profits; participating properties pay a fee to join the program and get listed on its site.
So what about those guests who just can’t leave their beloved pooches at home? Harvest Hosts recently found 52% of travelers base their routes, and destinations, on pet-friendly camping locations. If that location contains a body of water for dogs to show off their swimming skills, all the better. Holland estimates a quarter million Harvest Hosts travelers, mostly over 55 and empty nesters who consider a dog their “new kid,” take their pets along for adventures.
“We learned early on that we needed to have a filter that said ‘pet friendly,’” Holland said. “In the process of recruiting hosts, one of the things we angled for were pet friendly locations.”
Swilled Dog, a distillery of bourbon and cider in Upper Tract, West Virginia, has proven to be the perfect Harvest Hosts partner. Currently slammed with campers taking advantage of fall colors that complement their day hikes to Spruce Knob, Seneca Rocks and Smoke Hole Canyon, the property hosts up to four RVs per night.