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Monday, 7 December 2009

Checking out in 2010

The hotel check-out queue: one of the biggest headaches of business travel. Invariably, you are racing off to a meeting or the airport and there are suddenly ten people in the queue in front of you and only one person behind the counter.

Part of the problem is check-out times. The hotel industry is remarkably standardised when it comes to check-out times. With few exceptions, the latest guests can check out is usually between 10am and noon unless they fancy paying a hefty premium for the privilege.

Some people have argued that the way around the problem is for hoteliers to throw off the shackles of standardised check-in and check-out times and embrace flexibility.

A number of hotels already do so. The Peninsula Beverly Hills in Los Angeles is perhaps the hotel with the highest profile that allows guests to stay for 24 hours from the moment they have checked in. Others do too: The Quality Inn Sabari in Chennai, India and The 13 Coins Tower Ratchada in Bangkok for example. Yet they are in a tiny minority.

There may be about to become more prevalent. China has just changed the guidance on check-in and check-out for its hotels aimed at overseas travellers. Until recently, if you stayed in your room after midday but left before 6pm you had to pay an additional half day rate. If you checked out after 6pm, you had to pay for another full day. New guidance issued earlier this year by the China Tourist Hotels Association now means that hotels can be flexible with their check-in and check-out times.

Hoteliers argue that such flexibility comes at a cost. At the moment, they can employ the bulk of their housekeeping teams and front desk staff for just the short window between 10 and 4pm, keeping their costs down. Instead, most just tell guests they can have a late check-out but they must pay a premium – ostensibly to cover the additional staff costs. It’s hard to see that changing any time soon.

But 24-hour check-out is one answer. Making check-out slicker is another. Services such as CSP (the Conferma Settlement Plan), check-out kiosks and electronic check-out from your in-room entertainment system can also make the queue shorter and move more quickly. For hotels not in a position to offer that, perhaps the answer is to offer departing guests in-queue entertainment.

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