Testing the Wisdom of Traditional Check-in/Check-out Times

November 20, 2018


“The rules of capitalisation are so unfair to words in the middle of a sentence” said the writer John Green. A novelist like that – or anyone who deals with written language all day long – may indeed grow frustrated with the constraints of punctuation. On the other hand, the rules of a sentence are what make it work. Without a clear beginning and a clear ending, everything falls apart.


Likewise, this thinking has defined the rules of when guests can arrive and depart from a hotel. Clear beginnings and endings are essential to the process of maintaining operational fitness. Daily cleaning is the main reason for this. Because the cleaning needs to take place in a dedicated wave that starts in the morning and finishes up in the early afternoon, outbound guests need to be gone by late morning (often 10am in Australia, to the chagrin of many international visitors). New arrivals must have it clear in their heads that check-in will not ever start before 2pm. The reason is that it gives the staff time to refresh the hotel and maintain acceptable standards. It gives everybody a predictable system that be relied on.


But in the age of constantly changing hospitality options, all types of friction to the guest experience are in danger. Guests now have a direct influence on the global reputation of a hotel. There have been more than a few angry online reviews from guests who heard knocks on their doors five minutes after the posted checkout time or even before. Sure, the guest may not have slept very well. Sure, the guest may have things going on with work or family, but if the guest didn’t want to be disturbed, then they should have placed their DND hanger on the door or turned on the DND light. Rules are rules. By the same token, says the guest, reviews are reviews.


And one of the most common questions coming up in relation to check-in/out is: Why doesn’t every paying guest receive an equal amount of time in their room? If I arrive at 1 am, why should I not keep my room nine hours longer than the neighboring guest who checked in at 4 pm?


The answer, again, has to do with back-of-house efficiency – and a lot of hotels are looking for a different way to do things.


The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills is on the far end of the spectrum, allowing guests to set their own times for check-in and check-out. Major brands, including Hilton Worldwide and Westin Hotels, have embraced custom arrival and departure times, or the absence of strict policies. Millennial-centric brands like citizenM are also jumping on board. The sentiment is that you are generation positive guest experiences around check-in and check-out, and that this will pay dividends over time.


One of the startups that wants to solve these problems for you is Hotel Flex. It calls itself a “last minute distribution platform” – but essentially, it helps hotels get more out of rooms that have already been sold. The system integrates with a hotel’s property management system (PMS) to make real-time offers to guests based on dynamic statistics and real-time room availability. The company’s web site gives the example of analysing a hotel’s check-in and check-out data to find that 30% of available rooms are always vacated by 9 am. A parameter is set to offer early check-in for 20% of these rooms, and the offer is automatically e-mailed or texted to the incoming guest. Late check-outs can run on similar parameters, effectively providing hotel mangers with real-time up-charge opportunities that also play well with guests. Flexbook is a similar platform geared toward hotel guests looking for specific hours in a hotel room.


But when you talk about this level of flexibility, you’re talking about flexible housekeeping staff. You’re talking about having the right number of people on call throughout the day and night. Essentially it is a back-of-house challenge – one that will perhaps be more easily met by large properties, and those who cater to business travellers.


Probing the limits of punctuality


In the world of literature, writers always appear to test conventional sentence structures and punctuation but there are also those who have no problem operating “by the book.”


As we move into the third decade of this century, the punctuation of life and travel is more variable than ever. Work-life balance continues to shapeshift. Car services and flights run 24 hours. Travel destinations are seemingly endless, and schedules are fluid. It only makes sense that hotels would look for ways to make their own back-of-house operations more flexible in response. The businessperson arriving at 11am, with an outbound flight at 8pm the following evening, will have only good things to say. Full stop.


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