Friday, March 20, 2015

Day Stay

When my husband and I traveled to Europe, we sometimes took our chances that we could show up at a hotel at near crack of dawn and get into our room. Or we reserved (and paid for) a room for the night before.

When we took the former option, we  mostly got lucky. Sure, sometimes we ended up sitting in a lobby, slacked-jawed and drooling while waiting for our room to become available, which, given our slack-jawed and drooling presence, was probably a few hours earlier than it would have been if we’d dropped our bags and headed off for a zombified tourist day, obediently returning for a 4 p.m. check in. One time, in Limerick, Ireland, our room wasn’t ready, so they checked us into a smaller room where we were able to take a couple of hour nap and a shower and were, thus, good to go and un-jet-lagged for the trip. gOnce we were refreshed, they moved us into our grander digs. (This was Limerick, so it wasn’t all that much grander.)

When we took the latter option, we mostly go lucky. Reserving a room for the night before is not as easy a task as one might imagine, especially in the days before the Internet, when the reservation involved phone calls, faxes, and – in some countries – incredulity that anyone would actually pay for a room they weren’t using. One time, in Bunratty, Ireland, we tumbled off the plane at Shannon at 6 :30 a.m., delighted to know that we had lined up a one-night stand (but paying for a two-night stand) at a nearby hotel (where we had stayed several times), and that we could just roll right into our room. Not so fast. When we tried to check in, we were told that our room wasn’t ready. How was that possible, I asked, brandishing the confirmation fax. We’ve already paid for it for last night.

“Oh, darling,” the clerk told me. “There were some people who came in last night, and we were full up. They needed a room, and we knew that you’d want them to have yours.”

Well, they obviously didn’t know us if they thought that was what we wanted.

In fact, we wanted nothing more than to have that room for ourselves.

“Of course, you won’t be charged for it,” the clerk said, as if this were some magnanimous gesture he were making.

On another trip, this time to Prague, we had a six-hour holdover in Frankfurt.

We rolled our bags across the road in front of the terminal, and into a colossal hotel (Sheraton maybe) and asked if they could give us temporary shelter. They could and they did. Six hours worth of room for one-third the overnight rack rate. Sold!

We never did one of these partials again, but it always helped in planning to know that, at the big European airports at least, it was a possibility.

And now it’s a possibility that’s becoming possible in Boston:

Beginning this spring, visitors to Boston will have the option of booking day-use rooms through a website and app called HotelsByDay. It’s a burgeoning category of lodging: Book your room online, check in at 9 a.m., check out at 5 p.m. (or 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.), and pay from 30 percent to as much as 70 percent less than for an overnight stay. (Source:  Boston Globe)

Well, in by 9 a.m. wouldn’t work on some of those dawn flights to Ireland, but it would sure beat hanging around the lobby or the streets of a strange city until late afternoon.

HotelByDay, which is available in Europe and in a few cities in the States, is mostly:

…aimed at business travelers, families who want to shower and change after a day at the beach, or people waiting for departing evening cruise ships in foreign ports of call.

Of course, as the article notes, there is at least one further application that springs to the mind of any normal person, and that’s the use of the day rate for No-tell Motel purposes. (Speaking of which, in Tucson last week, we actually passed a rather seedy looking joint that was, in fact, called the Notel Motel.)

The burgeoning day-stay business is out to dispel the “sleazy stereotypes.” My first reaction is to hope they don’t try too hard. Why not grant that middle-aged couple, staggering off a too-hot, way-stuffy, sleepless overseas flight that little tryst frisson?

Although I wasn’t aware of it, day stay has apparently been working in Europe for the past decade. There are now 1,500 hotels there that offer day stays via sites like HotelsByDay and others. (As an aside, doesn’t HotelsByDay sound a bit like it’s something else by night, in some sort of half whore/half madonna kind of way?)

Over the past decade, we mostly rented short-stay flats when we were in Europe, and were generally able to arrange an early availability. Traveling in the States, you’re often able to arrange your arrival to better coincide with room availability. And, in any case, unless your going to/coming from Hawaii, or taking the red-eye from the West Coast to the East, you’re not going to suffer the jet lag you do heading for Europe.

Still, when I was in NYC with my niece Molly before Christmas, it was kind of a drag that we couldn’t check right in. We weren’t jet lagged, and were able to check our bags and take off for the day. Still, it would have been nice to be checked in right away.

So far, daytel-ling is already available in NYC, LA, Chicago and Miami. And, as noted, coming soon to Boston (where I have my own day stay, so won’t be needing one). Acceptance of the concept has been somewhat slow-going.

The founders of these websites confess that it’s been an uphill battle changing attitudes of US hoteliers who fear they will sully their brands by selling daytime rooms.

Ah, yet another instance of American Exceptionalism: prudery.

“They’re used to seeing dodgy walk-in customers during the day,” said Peter de Lorme, president of BookaDayRoom. “But we’re trying to alter that mindset. We’ve had initial opposition to the idea, but I think once you explain other uses it becomes clearer.”

Beyond the sleazy-dodgy factor, daytel does raise a couple of potential issues. Will folks now have to pay for early check in, which most hotels will now let you do if the room’s available? And, more critically, with the average hotel room experiencing more and more turnover, are we going to be seeing more bedbug infestations?

Oh, no, I thought I was over EFOBB (extreme fear of bed bugs)…

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