No matter your guests' reason for traveling, business or pleasure, the check-in and check-out processes are needlessly frustrating. On average, hotels want guests to check in and vacate their rooms at specific times, without much flexibility. In the age of the mobile booking, mobile check-in and experiential travel, this lack of flexibility is one of the few major frustrations left in the travel process.
A new startup—HotelFlex—is aiming to solve this by offering guests the ability to adjust their check-in and check-out timing in a way that not only benefits them, but the hotel.
“Due to selling rooms on what is currently an inflexible schedule, hotel rooms sit empty for 25 percent of the day, costing the hotel considerable lost potential revenue,” said Max Shepherd-Cross, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based HotelFlex. “We solve these problems by using predictive analytics to forecast a hotel’s occupancy on an hour-by-hour basis on each day of the week. We then feed that up to our booking widget, which is inserted onto the hotel’s booking engine.”
This widget allows hotel guests to choose their desired arrival and departure times, and charges them according to the period of time the hotel is able to accommodate these requests. This system allows guests to spend a little extra to expand their check-in period to mesh with flight schedules, ensure their room will be ready no matter when they arrive or add a little room to their check-out time to help them regroup before leaving. The system takes into account the hotel’s current room rate alongside six months of check-in and check-out data. This data is paired with an algorithm based on the hotel’s ability to provide clean rooms, predicted occupancy and more.
For example, by analyzing a hotel’s check-in and check-out data, finding that 30 percent of its rooms are always clean and empty by 9 am on a Monday morning, HotelFlex will allow that same property to offer the first 20 percent of these rooms to guests booking on a Monday the ability to check in beginning at 9 am. This benefits the hotel by providing an opportunity to up-charge on rooms that would otherwise sit empty for that period, sometimes until the mid-afternoon.
All About Control
At the moment, Shepherd-Cross said the system requires no changes to a hotel’s housekeeping schedule, though down the line when working at larger properties there may be the need to maximize efficiencies. The company takes a 15-percent cut of any additional revenue generated on behalf of the hotel from guests using the tool, and Shepherd-Cross said HotelFlex has no plans to set up shop with OTAs. This is a clear bonus for hotels, many of which currently offer later check-out times on request or through loyalty programs, because it locks off expanded controls over a guest's stay behind direct-booking channels.
“OTAs can’t offer this flexibility to guests, so we see it as a tool for pushing direct bookings,” he said. “We want to offer the ability to increase and decrease the length of stays while saving on bookings. The net result for the hotel is the ability to drive incremental revenue from empty bedrooms. The net result for guests is a more personalized level of service.”
Currently, HotelFlex’s technology is being put to use at Amsterdam’s Teleport Hotel. The company recently completed its first investment round, with Y Combinator—a seed accelerator created to fund technology startups noted for being the first to invest in Airbnb—putting up an initial seed investment. Airbnb was attractive to both investors and travelers because it put the power of the travel experience back in the hands of consumers, and this could be another example of technology, rather than products, tipping those scales again. This time, will it be in hospitality’s favor?
“We don’t believe hotels are truly optimizing price on their rooms,” Shepherd-Cross said. “Current practices don’t match the way modern guests want to travel. Business, leisure—the segment doesn’t matter. It’s all about putting control in their hands.”