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Time for Check-in Changes

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June 01, 2002
24-Hour Check-in
Neil Holm

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© 2002 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Why aren’t more hotels providing this great 24-hour check-in service? It seems so simple and completely logical from the customer’s point of view.

As technology specialists, we are always looking for ways that technology can help make the guest experience a better one. While on an overseas business trip, we stumbled upon a revolutionary 24-hour check-in/out service while stopping over in Singapore. We checked in at the unorthodox hour of 1 a.m. and didn’t have to leave until 1 a.m. the next day. No frenzied rushing to get packed and out the door before noon – a typical check-out time.

Singapore’s Gallery Evason hotel allows all guests, regardless of rate, to check in and out based on a 24-hour schedule. When guests arrive, their departure times are confirmed and input into the hotel’s MS/SQL-based PMS. The system generates reports that are disseminated to each department affected by the arriving guest’s schedule. As an important economic centre for Southeast Asia, Singapore acts as a central airport and shipping hub. With visitors from all corners of the globe, hotels must provide personalized, flexible service, of which 24-hour check-in/out fits the bill.

After our jet lag wore off, we asked ourselves, why aren’t more hotels providing this great 24-hour check-in service? It seems so simple and completely logical from the customer’s point of view. But when we tried to find other hotels offering a similar service, we were surprised to find not even a handful. Many boast 24-hour check-in, but it only means there is a live body at the front desk when the guest shows up at 2 a.m. —you still check out before noon like everybody else.

It’s About Time Says Four Points Sheraton at LAX
We found only two hotels based in California offering the real thing. It’s about time is the tagline used by the Four Points Sheraton at LAX for their new service, which they began marketing earlier this year. Phil Baxter, general manager, said, “It means two things. It’s about time the hotel industry offered such a basic service to its customers, but mostly it’s about the customer’s time – or lack of it.”

Baxter explains their marketing strategy focuses entirely on the customer addressing two aspects of the changing travel market: customers want more control of their stay and there are fewer business people traveling more often. When asked whether other Starwood hotels would follow suit, he said, “That will be up to the head office to decide, but LAX’s success will definitely have an impact on the final decision.”

The service is primarily targeted at repeat business customers, but is available to all customers, leisure or otherwise, for room stays of $95 or more. Guests have responded positively and it’s mainly a matter of educating them of the new benefit. Check-in and check-out times dictated by hotels are a given in most customer’s minds – guests aren’t used to having a choice.

Although 24-hour check-in appears simple from the outside it takes a great deal of operational gymnastics to make the service happen properly. Technology systems must not only accommodate the change but also front office staff, housekeeping and security staff need to be juggled throughout the day. Simple, yet important factors are all part of the equation, such as making sure housekeeping is particularly quiet while cleaning rooms at a time that might disturb other guests.

Because of the Sheraton’s close, yet relatively quiet, location near the airport, a number of rooms have always been reserved for airline crews with highly variable arrival times. The hotel already had systems and experience in place for 24-hour housekeeping to accommodate this group, but just had to streamline and formalize their policies. Baxter says the change hasn’t affected the Four Points as much as other hotels might experience.

Four Points adapted their existing technology to accommodate the change using an in-house information technology manager, revenue manager and a Starwood GDS technology team member. The most time-intensive part of the process, however, is still done manually. Room control staff must contact guests to confirm their estimated arrival and departure times, and ensure the information is disseminated properly to housekeeping and others through the PMS. With further streamlining, property management systems and online booking systems should be able to eliminate some of this manual work in the future. We’ll start to see changes when more progressive hotels implement the 24-hour check-in service to serve their guests better.

Part of Personalized Service at Raffles L’Ermitage
The Raffles L’Ermitage in posh Beverly Hills integrated the 24-hour check-in service during an extensive visionary renovation 5 1/2 years ago. The 20-year-old hotel re-opened in June 1998 with brand new technology and systems in place to serve their high-end market. The Raffles L’Ermitage hotel has an in-house IT staff that keeps the system running smoothly.

Vanessa Williams, sales and marketing director, said, “Not many hotels provide the 24-hour check-in service because it can be costly to implement and maintain.” Raffles L’Ermitage has 24-hour housekeeping on staff most of the time.

Like the Four Points, Raffles L’Ermitage also calls customers directly to verify their arrival/departure information to schedule housekeeping and other services. Williams said, “We treat this as another golden opportunity to speak directly with our valued customers and further determine their unique needs.”

Raffles L’Ermitage’s new technology system carefully tracks the needs and preferences of all guests, so their subsequent stays are a very personalized experience. Guest services representatives at the Raffles L’Ermitage are highly trained professionals dedicated to providing the best service to their guests. Williams feels the service is an important part of why people come back again. She said, “Twenty-four-hour check-in is particularly popular with travelers from Australia and Asia, who generally arrive early in the morning.”

Time for Check-in Changes
So does the future hold 24-hour check-in/out as a basic feature in most hotels? We think so. And with technology to help further streamline the process and bring costs down, we’ll see a rapid increase in hotels providing this great service in years to come.

Twenty-four-hour check-in/out is a win/win service, increasing hotel REVPAR, while giving guests greater value for the rate they pay. Guests are guaranteed nothing less than a 24-hour stay, which seems only fair. The early implementers will be hotels in busy, central airport hubs whose guests arrive at highly variable times of the day and some top-end boutique hotels dedicated to providing more personalized service. This is all good news for guests and we agree it is about time.

Neil Holm is president of hyphen information systems management (previously known as Innovative Hospitality Solutions). Neil can be reached at (604) 685-8632 to discuss your information systems consulting, management and training needs.

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