Édition #5

Doggy tourism: from a niche market to a mass phenomenon?

Hélène MICHEL Professor of Gamification & Innovation at Grenoble École de Management
We said: “not on the sofa!” and then dogs gained ground. In our lives first and foremost, with almost 8 million dogs living in French homes. Many live in urban areas, sniffing the pavements of towns that are now recognised as “Dog Friendly”, such as Nice, Montpellier or Grenoble, depending on their level of adaptation to canines (based on criteria such as accessibility, with acceptance on public transport, cleanliness, with the provision of specific places for them, or commitment, with a local councillor for “animals in urban areas”).

While they are at work, some dog owners are finding original solutions for having their pets looked after, such as empruntemontoutou.com (borrowmydoggy.com), which puts dog owners in contact with people who want to take them for a walk, “without breaking the bank”. Sometimes, owners can even take their dogs to work. This ranges from #petsatwork days, organised on an ad hoc basis within organisations to new working conditions offered by companies, who have also sniffed this out as an opportunity to attract human talent.

Things are also changing in the leisure sector: many canines participate in an increasing variety of activities with their humans, such as agility, tracking, or running, biking or riding a scooter harnessed to a dog. Dog-focused events are springing up, that are far removed from the usual “dog shows”: Woofest, for example, offers the “first animal festival”, where you bring your dog to Lyon, Paris or Toulon to take part in fun activities in beautiful, wide-open spaces. In Mérignac, a dog-only swimming pool opened for summer 2023. And if your dog really cannot join in, dog-sitting services are springing up at campsites or near tourist attractions (patchguard.com). These good ideas and many more are listed by the Wouafer’s community (emmenetonchien.com), who offer advice on travelling with your dog, alongside dog-specific tourist guides (chienvoyageur.com). Dogs certainly represent an interesting and growing niche market. Entrepreneurs in this sector are already creating groups such as La Meute (the pack of dogs).

“In leisure activities, things are also changing: many canines share an increasing range of activities with their humans, such as agility, tracking, cani-cross, cani-biking
or even cani-scooters.”

But beyond the prospect of development, the entry of dogs into tourist practices raises profound societal questions. First of all, we can ask whether the status of dogs is evolving from that of “pet” to that of “companion species”. Donna Haraway1, a contemporary American philosopher, wonders how to build a relationship of significant otherness with her dog Cayenne, without it being marked by a relationship of domination, but rather by a relationship of respect and affection, and how to do this without projecting our purely human vision. Of course, dogs can be a companion species in their own right, without taking on a role of substitution by becoming “new children”, for example, or being endowed with attributes designed to “humanise” them.

This is in line with studies on inter-species relations, which question our relationship with living things². Baptiste Morizot³ proposes a “diplomacy with living beings” when we live together in the same territory, with beings that resist and insist. “Beings who, for all that, must not be destroyed or excessively weakened, because our vitality depends on theirs”.

“ Dogs can be a companion species in their own right, without taking on a role of substitution, for example by becoming ‘new children’.”

This also raises the question of a form of interspecies intersectionality, which would also manifest itself in tourism. This sociological notion refers to the way in which different forms of oppression are articulated and mutually strengthen each other. Take beaches, for example. Some (many) beaches are off-limits to dogs. Dog owners (their humans, from a companion-species perspective) find themselves set apart, either geographically – at the end of the rocks – or temporally – early in the morning or late at night – to avoid conflicts of use. These same spatio-temporal margins are used by other profiles, such as people who want to swim naked or, conversely, completely covered, or those who want to play loud music and party or fish in silence. These margins offer a zoom on totally heterogeneous needs and practices, in which extremes cohabit, often in a relative mutualism, forged by their difference.

Finally, travelling with a dog is not only a factor of marginalisation. Of course, many other social relationships can develop between owners. Even more so because man’s best friend could actually be woman’s best friend, as some women will start practicing an outdoor activity such as running, hiking or bivouacking, because they are accompanied by their dog and are therefore “not alone”. As a companion and a guarantee of safety, aren’t dogs becoming a means of reclaiming space, whether this is a public area or off the beaten track? Would allowing dogs access to more places not help to give women greater access?

“ Would the dog, the companion  and guarantee of safety, not become a means of reappropriating space, whether public or wild? ”

1 Donna Haraway, Companion Species Manifesto, Climats-Essais (2019)
2 Vinciane Despret, Autobiography of an Octopus, Actes Sud Nature, Mondes sauvages (2021)
3 Baptiste Morizot, On the Animal Trails, Actes Sud Nature, Mondes sauvages (2019).

A teacher-researcher in innovation management at Grenoble École de Management. Within the framework of the “Territoires en Transition” Chair, she analyses tourism phenomena such as micro-adventures or staycations. She created the “Fabularium” poetic device to carry out life-size research.