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The Savvy Traveler : Hotels Trying to Shorten Check-in and Check-out

October 11, 1987|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

Like to stand in long lines? Then have I got a hotel for you--the Las Vegas Hilton. No, I'm not talking about the hotel's midnight show. Try checking into the Hilton on any Friday night between 8 p.m. and midnight. Or on any Sunday afternoon.

"That's when it can get really crazy," says Tony Santo, executive assistant manager of the hotel. "On Friday nights we get the leisure traveler and on Sundays we get the conventions and groups."

Those are the times when it's not unusual for folks to wait 30 minutes or more at this 3,174-room hotel that claims it's the largest hotel in the world.

For sure, the Las Vegas Hilton is by no means the only hotel with this aggravating problem. Hundreds of hotels are unable--or unwilling--to deal with the ordeal of checking in.

Checking in should be fast, smooth and relatively effortless. From the hotel's standpoint, it's the first opportunity for contact with a guest, and it should be a pleasant experience.

From the guest's point of view, if checking in is a hardship, it can be a precursor that the rest of the hotel experience might be less than positive.

But few hotels have been able to solve the waiting problem during check-in. And it seems like such a simple one to handle.

Clerks and Cashiers

Consider this: Most hotel guests check in between 2 and 7 p.m. And most guests check out before 10 a.m. Why is it, then, that there always seem to be extra front-desk clerks on duty in the morning, lots of extra cashiers on duty in the afternoon? Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Few things are as frustrating as standing in a long check-in line waiting for a front-desk clerk and watching three cashiers standing idly by at the next counter. Just as frustrating is waiting in a long check-out line for a cashier and seeing extra desk personnel doing absolutely nothing.

Some hotels have begun to cross-train their personnel, so that cashiers or front-desk clerks can fill in during peak check-in/out times.

"When you cross-train," says Kurt Wachtveitl, general manager of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, "you can cut down the check-in wait to almost nothing. When people come to our hotel they've had a long flight and all they are thinking about is their room.

"The check-in procedure should be as fast as possible, and nothing should come between them and their bed."

Readiness Is All

That also assumes your room is going to be ready when you are. Some hotels have no effective contingency plans for guests who arrive before their rooms are ready. This was the case in Europe this summer. Many flights arriving from the United States land in the morning. When the tired travelers arrive at their hotel, they are sometimes told that their rooms won't be ready for four hours.

I witnessed this on three consecutive days at a London hotel. Each morning at least half a dozen American vacationers arriving from New York were told that their rooms weren't ready. Did the hotel offer them a free meal or cocktail? A temporary room to catch a nap or change clothes?

No. They were simply told to wait. And wait they did, in various states of consciousness in the crowded lobby. They weren't alone, either. Rooms were also not ready for airline crew from the same flight, also registered at the hotel. They, too, camped out in the lobby.

'Lobby Squad'

You won't find this guest-room refugee scene at the Four Seasons Clift Hotel in San Francisco. General manager Stan Bromley has started something called the "lobby squad," a group of hotel management staff on duty during peak times in the lobby.

"They literally patrol the check-in and check-out areas," Bromley says. "If they see a line forming, they step in and handle the arriving or departing guest on the spot." And the lobby squad members don't just show up at peak times, but also to welcome the regular late-night flight arrivals from New York.

"When you have a bad check-in experience," says Bromley, "everything good you're about to do for a guest doesn't matter."

Similarly, a great hotel experience can be marred by the final contact the hotel has with a guest--checking out.

Spectradyne (the same company that provides room movies at many hotels) now offers something called Video Check Out. It allows hotel guests the option of checking out of their rooms from their rooms--using a keypad and following the instructions on their TV sets.

Memories Matter

"One way to make a guest forget all the good memories of a stay is a good long wait in the check-out line," says Rollon Parker, product manager for Spectradyne. "If a hotel makes that last half hour at the hotel the worst half hour of the guest's whole stay, it is definitely the time period that will be most remembered."

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