by Lilit Marcus, Condé Nast Traveler
A few weeks ago, I was staying at the Capella, D.C. in Washington, D.C. while in town for a story. Since I work for Condé Nast Traveler, I have hotels pretty much figured out--or so I thought. When I came downstairs for breakfast, I asked the receptionist when check-out was the following day, expecting an answer that was either "11 a.m." or "noon."
"What time would be best for you?" she asked.
It turns out that the Capella chain is one of a growing number of hotels across the country that are getting rid of traditional check-in and check-out times in order to cater to today's traveler. And it makes sense--don't we all have a memory of being tired and bleary-eyed, nearly falling asleep in a hotel lobby while we waited for our room to be ready? It's one major appeal of staying in an apartment or renting out an Airbnb--if your flight gets in at 6 a.m. and you didn't sleep a wink, you can walk right in without waiting for a previous guest to vacate or the cleaning staff to finish sprucing up your room. Flexible check-in is also a dream for business travelers, who might have a meeting soon after arrival and would love the chance to shower, change clothes, and drop off their luggage.
I spoke to the Capella D.C.'s general manager, Marco Bustamante, about how they handle their nontraditional time policy. "At Capella, the guest chooses their experience," he says. "If you're traveling from Abu Dhabi and you get in at 7 in the morning, the last thing you want to do is wait until 3 p.m. to check in. We have personal assistants who help you arrange whatever you want. What if you have a meeting at noon and need your suit pressed? We figure it out. If the room's not ready, I will have an additional one ready so they can refresh and get dressed."
But how does it work, logistically? "We take it on a case-by-case basis. We always have a backup plan," says Bustamante. As for cleaning staff, "We do staff a little earlier and later than most hotels and assign fewer rooms [per person] so that we can focus on attention to detail." It helps that Capella's hotels are small and intimate (the D.C. property has 49 rooms), so the reception team doesn't have to keep track of a huge number of guests. And if there was a situation where every single departing guest wanted late check-out and every single arriving guest wanted early check-in, staff will talk to guests and try to negotiate in order to prevent chaos. So far though, Bustamante says, the system is working out pretty well.
The 11 Capella hotels aren't the only ones experimenting with or throwing out traditional check-in and -out times. The Peninsula Beverly Hills has flexible timing for checking in and out without tacking on additional half-day rates. The Patina hotel and resort brand books rooms in blocks of 24 hours, so a guest could hypothetically arrive at 11 p.m., then check out at 11 p.m. the following night without paying any extra fees. For the time being, most of the hotels offering this amenity are small, upscale brands catering primarily to wealthy business travelers, but as these properties keep trying to compete with Airbnb, expect the trend to keep on growing.
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