by Joe Brancatelli Mar 07 2012
Starwood is making a big deal about a new program for elite hotel guests that lets them pick their own check-in and checkout times. Will other chains follow this 24-hour gimmick?
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Starwood Hotels has come up with a new promotion for its most loyal guests: an option to set your own 24-hour period for a stay.
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Walk into the lobby of any decent London hotel at the start of the business day and you’ll find huddled masses of business travelers yearning for a room.
Their clothes are rumpled. They’re tired and bedraggled from long overnight flights. They desperately need a shower. They’ve been dumped in London by their airline, which schedules arriving flights from long-haul destinations around the break of dawn. And they’ve been rebuffed by icily polite front-desk clerks, who superciliously remind them that standard check-in time is 3 p.m. and, no, there’s no chance for an earlier room assignment.
“London is the worst,” says Brian Williams, who’s managed both the Ritz and Mandarin Oriental hotels in the British capital. “Every international flight into London arrives between 5 and 7 in the morning, and travelers show up at their hotel hoping for a room” hours before their reservation stipulates.
It’s not just London, of course. Williams, now managing director of Swire Hotels, sees it at his stunning new properties such as the Opposite House in Beijing and the Upper House in Hong Kong. American businesspeople headed anywhere in Europe and many places in Asia fly into their destination hours before their room is ready. But it can happen in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Kingman, Barstow, or San Bernardino too.
Almost without exception, hotels want you to check in after 3 p.m. and check out no later than noon. And it’s too bad if that doesn’t fit your business-travel schedule. All over the world, hoteliers have a nearly unbreakable rule: The business traveler must adjust to our concept of what constitutes a hotel “night.” Check in when we permit it, check out when we demand it. And if you want or need more flexibility, pay for an extra night of accommodations.
“It was tradition, set in the system,” explains Michael Matthews, whose more than 50 years in the lodging industry has included global stops at the Regent, Ritz-Carlton, and St. Regis chains. “Allowing each guest to check in whenever they wanted and check out 24 hours later was considered too difficult. It was easier for us to manage if we made everyone check in and check out at the same time.”
But that rigid, do-it-our-way style of hotel management may be changing. Since March 1, super-elite members of the Starwood Preferred Guest program can take advantage of a scheme called Your24. Although there are some quirks and restrictions, Your24 is simple enough in concept: The guest chooses their own check-in time. The room is theirs for 24 hours after that.
In announcing the new perk for SPG members who stay a total of at least 75 nights a year at its chains, Starwood vice president Mark Vondrasek called Your24 “the preference of our guests” and part of the hotel group’s drive to “make travel as personalized as possible.”
Although Your24 is the boldest step yet in the concept of selling guests a 24-hour room and the marketing of totally flexible check-in and checkout times, Starwood’s move is tiny in the totality of the lodging universe. Why? Because even with all of its brands (it operates, among others, Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, and W hotels), Starwood controls “only” about 1,100 properties around the world.
And, tellingly, none of Starwood’s much larger competitors have matched the Your24 initiative, which was not-so-secretly tested for nearly two years and officially announced more than a month ago. Not Wyndham (17 brands and 7,200 properties) nor Choice (11 brands and 6,100 properties), global leaders in the economy-lodging segments. Not Marriott nor Hilton, Starwood’s traditional competitors, which are each three times larger. Not Accor of France, with 4,100 properties worldwide. And not Britain’s InterContinental Hotels, which controls 4,500 hotels around the world.