Hotel overstay policy that challenges convention: A brilliant transparent promotion


Good relationships are based on honesty, and building relationships is at the core of a strong business. Yet for some companies, true transparency, and by default, apparent honesty, can seem lacking when guised in corporate policy. We now seek out brands that are honest, flaws and all, because it feels like we can trust them more.

For a brand, being transparent and honest makes it more human. In the age of wired customers and easy social sharing, dishonesty can be feathered out faster than you can hire a PR firm to fix it. Increasingly, brands will have no choice but to always be truthful. Seems simple enough. But why are there so few good examples? Let’s consider when flaws and brand limits can be virtues rather than faults.



Ever wonder why check out has to be at 11am, when check in is 4pm, and there might not even be anyone taking your room anyway? So did the Olsen Hotel, a stylish 5 star hotel in Melbourne, Australia close to the Chapel Street shopping and dining district. They offer the world’s latest check out. This brilliant overstay promotion means that if your room is not needed by another guest later that day or even the next, you can stay on absolutely free. All you need to do is call reception in the morning and find out when the next guest is due to arrive. It’s simple and it’s honest. There are no limits, so technically if there is no booking behind you, you are welcome to continue as long as you like – quite revolutionary. Of course the hotel is popular, so the likelihood of a huge extended stay is probably limited, and most travelers have some sort of schedule that would prevent over indulgence, but the fact that they’ve erred on your side and were honest about it, makes them a winner. There’s also the notion of a lottery going on here with the potential of winning an extended stay. As consumers we are attracted to the gamification involved and the notion of play. It turns traditional travel industry policies on their ear, and in doing so the Olsen Hotel stands out. Do you think they might just get more bookings because of this policy? And do you think maybe a few people talk about it favourably online and off? In fact the hotel encourages just that, suggesting folks post photos to their Facebook page or on Twitter and Instagram telling others about their overstay, or what they did with their additional time in Melbourne. The value of the free publicity gained I’m sure far exceeds the costs of awarding some late checkouts or extended stays for free. Simply brilliant!

Check out the detail here. I love the time elapsed video image of a guest, as he is granted additional nights stay! It’s a cheeky and memorable visual summary of the promotion.

The Canadian McDonalds “Our food. Your questions” campaign tapped this sentiment. The fast food industry has taken a lot of grief for contributing to obesity. They’ve also suffered from appearing like a big impersonal corporation exclusively focused on profit. The McDonalds campaign attempted to pull back the veil a little, by allowing Canadians to post genuine questions, sometimes awkward and negative, and the company answered them publically through their Facebook page, Twitter feed, Youtube and Instagram in exchanges that then became material for the campaign, appearing as print, broadcast and outdoor ads. Responses were also easily shareable through social media. While one could argue about the editing process that could have taken place, the very openness to expose themselves to criticism, giving a public voice to others and a promised response moved the needle in a direction that other fast food companies have yet to go.

Click here for a sample of posted questions from the campaign:

And yes, they admitted to having some freckles and flaws, but by being open and honest, they earned trust along the way. And for the record, freckles can be unique and adorable, rather than flaws. It just depends on whom you ask.

So I’m tossing it back to you now. Are there any rules or limits you could change that would delight your customers? Is there an industry convention that you could break – just because it makes sense to the customer, not your competitors? And do you have any flaws, that if acknowledged in an honest and transparent way, could actually win you favour, simply for being up front and not hiding behind your corporate veil? Press reply and let me know what you’ve done or what you’ve seen out there that are great examples of this.

We trust brands that are honest, flaws and all. Maybe it’s time to be more human.


Mary Charleson

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