This month, I spent three nights – Friday to Monday – in a lush beachside Airbnb in Culburra Beach on the NSW South Coast.
The trip had been originally planned as a 40th birthday celebration way back in August, but it was truncated into a plain old weekend away, with vastly reduced guest numbers, after Covid restrictions and cancellations played havoc with the original plans. By the time the booking came around we didn’t really need the three nights any more but they were paid for and I was so bored of the endless merry-go-round of changing plans that I left it as it was.
But if I’d taken the time to scrutinise the booking’s check-in and check-out times, it’s likely I would have cancelled at least one of the nights.
Because the property’s check-in time was the deeply uncivilised 4PM. And check-out time was the barely-enough-time-for-a-coffee 10AM. It was irritatingly obvious that those extra nights weren’t worth the money.
To me, late check-ins and early check-outs at Airbnbs and hotels are more than just inconvenient or unfair. They feel dismissive. Rude, even. “We’re delighted to relieve you of the cost of a three-night stay,” they say, “But you really only get one full night and two pointless, stumpy, sort-of nights. Suck it.”
It’s even more irksome to think that if I hadn’t paid for that final Sunday night, they would have marched me out of there at 10AM on the Sunday. That wouldn’t even have counted as a full weekend.
I am, of course, aware of the reasoning behind late check-in and early check-out times. Venues need time to clean and turn over rooms for the next guests. And cleaning must take longer and be more detailed than ever since Covid.
But surely there are ways to stagger things or make them more flexible so they’re more in line with guests’ needs and expectations. Other service businesses manage it. We can, for example, select delivery windows for our online supermarket shops. When we buy an airline ticket we can tailor our purchase to add extras like selected seats or in-flight meals. We may pay a little more for the privilege, but service customisation seems completely achievable.
Some hotel chains have figured out that giving guests things they actually want – not shockingly – should be part of what you’re paying for. The Peninsula Group, which operates luxury hotels around the world in cities like Los Angeles, Shanghai and Paris, has recently done away with check-In and check-out times completely, with rooms ready for guests as early as 6AM on their check-in day, and able to be used until 10PM on their check-out day. “Now that travel has become more complicated, we understand that extra time is one of the most meaningful gifts we can give our guests,” the group said in a statement.
Standard Hotels, which have a bunch of edgy properties around the US, Asia and Europe have a policy called ‘Standard Time’ that allows you to select your own check-in and check-out times. Their reasoning? “Your night out requires a morning in.” Amen.
With the end of Covid restrictions and the rush of pent-up travel demand, accommodation competition is going to heat up. In Australia alone, it’s expected that 180 new hotels either have or will open between 2021 and 2023. So if they want us to lay our heads on their pillows? They should think seriously about letting us keep laying our heads on those pillows for the total time we’ve paid for.
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