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Hotel Guest Experience | 5 Stages of the Guest Cycle

hotel bed


All guests staying in a hospitality establishment follow the flow of business which is commonly referred to as the guest cycle or the arrival chronology. This follows guests from the moment they make a reservation, up to the moment that they have settled their account and checked out. All staff should be aware of the activities that take place at each stage of the guest cycle and the ultimate experience.


By using this guest cycle, the hotel/ lodge / guest house manager can analyse the activities that are taking place in each stage and take note of the documents that should be used in each stage, in order to better satisfy the guest. In this article, we will look into the 5 stages of the guest cycle, the main activities needing to take place and the accounting and housekeeping functions.


  • Stage #1 – Pre-arrival
  • Stage #2 – Arrival
  • Stage #3 – Occupancy
  • Stage #4 – Departure
  • Stage #5 – Post stay


Stage #1 – Pre-arrival


The pre-arrival stage in the guest cycle includes all activities which take place before the guest arrives at the guest house/ lodge. The most important activity which occurs during the pre-arrival stage of the guest cycle is that the guest makes a reservation at the guest house/ lodge.


Reservation enquiries

Guests may contact the guest house/ lodge via telephone, the guest house/ lodge website, e-mail, OTA, WhatsApp or in person to make a reservation or to enquire about making a reservation.


Travel agents or companies usually have one specific person who will contact the guest house/ lodge to make a reservation for their clients or employees. It is important that the channels that guests use to make reservations or enquiries be updated regularly and that they work at all times.


Types of reservations

In the hospitality industry, there are two main types of reservations. The one is a guaranteed reservation, which is the most preferable, and the other is a non-guaranteed reservation. In order for a reservation to be considered guaranteed, the guest must have paid a deposit or paid the full amount (prior to their stay) to the guest house/ lodge. A deposit may be paid in cash, but is usually paid via EFT, bank deposit or credit card.


The preferred way for a guest to pay either the full amount or a deposit is with a credit card. It is wise for the guest house/ lodge to acquire a speedpoint machine from a reputable bank, in order to assist guests in processing deposits, payments and settlements with their credit or debit cards. Guests may also pay via direct Internet banking. Please beware of fraudulent POP! After the guest has completed his or her reservation at the guest house/ lodge, the guest house/ lodge sends the guest a confirmation letter (usually e-mailed) and a credit card authorisation form is attached with this letter, as well as the guest house/ lodge banking details in the case of a deposit or Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT).


Generally speaking, most guest house/ lodges prefer full payment in advance. In other words, if the guest is staying 3 nights and the room rate is R1 800 per night, the guest house/ lodge will request 3 x R1 800 = R5 400 for the room for all three nights from the guest. Any extras (like meals or laundry) will depend on additional services and facilities that the guest house/ lodge offers. A 5 Star hotel/ lodge, for instance, may have more services and facilities on which guests can spend their money than there would be in a 3 Star hotel/ lodge. The extras will then be paid for before the guest departs from the guest house/ lodge.


However, it is usual for guests to arrange for extra meals in advance also, and in such cases, these will also be paid for in advance.


Some guest house/ lodges may charge only a percentage of the room rate as a deposit, but payment in advance (PIA) lowers the risk for the guest house/ lodge, in the case of the guest cancelling his or her reservation, not showing up or even stealing something from the guest house/ lodge.


A guaranteed reservation guarantees that the guest house/ lodge will keep the room for the guest on their day of arrival, and it also guarantees that the guest will honour his/her promise to arrive at the guest house/ lodge. If the guest decides to cancel his/her reservation and does so more than 24 hours in advance, the guest will receive the entire amount back. If the guest cancels in less than 24 hours before the arrival time, then the guest house/ lodge may retain an amount equal to one night’s stay (to cover that night’s room charge and then find a new guest for the following evening).


If the guest does not arrive on the scheduled arrival date, the guest house/ lodge will usually retain an amount which covers that night’s stay (to cover that night’s room charge and then find a new guest for the following evening). If the guest has made a reservation through his/her company or travel agent, then the reservation will be automatically guaranteed, and the company or travel agent will be responsible for the payment of the night’s stay, whether the guest cancels the reservation (less than 24 hours in advance) or fails to arrive at the guest house/ lodge.


A non-guaranteed reservation is made for guests who do not pay in advance or who do not pay a deposit. The guest may not want to pay the deposit or the full amount as they may be unsure of their reservation, or they may simply not have the money available at that moment to pay. Guests must be properly informed that not paying a deposit or the full amount means that the guest house/ lodge has the right to sell the room to another guest, if the original guest has not arrived by 18:00 on the scheduled date of arrival. This particular time may differ from one guest house/ lodge to another, but industry-wide it is known as a “6pm release” or “6pm hold” room, indicating to the guest that if they do not arrive by 6pm (18:00), the room may be released back into the system to be sold. With this type of reservation, the guest house/ lodge has no recourse if the guest cancels the reservation or fails to arrive. The guest house/ lodge has no money belonging to the guest and therefore is not able to retain any money. This type of reservation may result in lost revenue for a guest house/ lodge.


Recording reservations

Depending on the marketing strategies of the hotel/ lodge, a guest could call to make a reservation, make a reservation in person, use an e-mail, or, if the guest house/ lodge has a website, make a reservation enquiry via the website. This section will focus on the information that needs to be recorded in order to make a reservation for a guest. A guest contacting the guest house/ lodge will usually enquire as to whether there is a room available for a specific date. There are three possible scenarios: if the guest house/ lodge has a room available that suits the needs of the guest, the guest house/ lodge will accept the guest’s reservation; if there is not a room/rate that suits the guest’s needs, then alternatives may be given to the guest, in the form of another room, an alternative date or even an alternative rate.

The third scenario is that the establishment may be fully booked and cannot accommodate the guest. In this case the establishment should be able to refer the guests to another hotel/ lodge in the area that offers the same or similar services and rates.


If the guest requests a reservation on a specific date, the receptionist/ manager should be able to assist the guest by checking whether a room is available and that it suits the guest’s needs. This can be done by checking on a reservation chart (refer to Annexure A) which rooms are available and for which dates. Any bookings already confirmed will appear on such a chart, as well as the number of days these guests will be staying and the rate they will be paying. A reservations chart should have a column for each room type and a row for each day of the month. Colouring dates of weekends, public holidays or big events in a different colour will also assist the receptionist/ manager to see important dates that are coming up, which may be cause for a change in rates.


When the guest makes a reservation for a specific room type and specific dates, the receptionist/ manager should make a note of the surname of the guest, and also how many persons will be occupying the room. It is best to complete such a chart in pencil, as guests may cancel, change their reservations or even postpone their reservations to a different date.


If the guest agrees to the date and the rate, then the reservation can be created for the guest. A reservation is usually done by completing a reservation form, which includes personal information of the guest as well as information pertaining to the reservation, room and rate. It is important when making the reservation that as much information about the guest as possible is recorded. The receptionist/ manager should be very knowledgeable about the products and services that the hotel has to offer, in order to best satisfy the guest’s needs.


Telephone etiquette

Professional telephone etiquette should be maintained at all times. The receptionist or manager should always have a pen, paper, reservations chart and reservation form at hand when answering the telephone. Especially in a hotel/ lodge environment, someone should always be available to answer the telephone or redirect the telephone to a handheld when leaving the front desk area. All calls should be answered promptly and efficiently. Most hotels/ lodges have moved to cellphones nowadays. The beauty about a cellphone is that you can move around with it, be able to see missed-calls, and be able to respond to WhatsApp enquiries, etc.


The best way to answer the telephone is to provide a greeting, then identify the property and yourself, and then offer assistance. For example “Good morning, thank you for calling ABC hotel, my name is Sam, how may I assist?” When ending the telephone call, it is best to say “Thank you for calling ABC hotel, have a good day”.


It is important to remember that all guest information is confidential. Never give information about the guest out to anyone who is calling, as this is your guest’s private information. Messages taken for guests can be typed out and placed under the guest room door, to ensure that they receive their messages. The same applied to faxes or packages accepted on behalf of the guest.

hotel staff answer telephone

Confirming the reservation

Before ending the telephone call with the guest, remember to repeat their reservation information back to them. This also assists you to confirm that you have the correct information. Of particular importance is their telephone number and e-mail address.


Once the guest reservation has been made, always send the guest a confirmation of their reservation. This will ensure that the information is correct and will prevent misunderstandings. It is best to use a standard template for a reservation confirmation and just fill in each guest’s information. It is important to remember that a confirmed reservation merely means that the guest has confirmed their details and the details of the reservation. Such a confirmed reservation will remain non-guaranteed until the guest has paid a deposit. Only then does the reservation become guaranteed.


To aid in the payment of a deposit, a reservation confirmation letter should always be accompanied by a credit card authorisation form that should be completed by the guest and faxed back to you.


Hotel policies

Your confirmation letter should include a brief description of your policies. This should include:


Cancellation policy – this is important in the case where a guest fails to arrive, and does or does not cancel his or her reservation. This policy should be clearly explained to the guest to avoid any misunderstandings. The policy will only apply to guests who have paid a deposit. A cancellation form should also be used.


Non-arrival (“no-show”) policy – this is important when the guest does not contact the hotel/ lodge to cancel, and does not arrive on the date of the reservation. The hotel/ lodge could lose money if guests do not arrive and have not paid, because it might be too late to resell the room. If guests have paid a deposit the policy will provide for the room to be covered in the event that the guest does not arrive.


Other possible policies could cover the following:

Facilities that guest may use, smoking areas, pets, locking-up and opening times, guest’s access to telephone facilities, check-in and check-out times, availability of extra pillows/ blankets, meal times, and any other services you may offer.


Organising reservation forms, confirmation letters and credit card

authorisation forms (or any other proof of deposits), cancellation forms


It is best to file your reservations for the year in a file which has a divider for each month of the year. Then use dividers with numbers to indicate each day of the month, filing each guest reservation and information under the correct date.


Before the guest is due to arrive

You should know which guests are due to arrive each day, as well as which rooms are available for them to check into. This will assist you in preparing for the guest’s arrival.


Housekeeping should ensure that the correct guest rooms are clean and tidy, and ready according to the requirements of the guest. This may include extra blankets or pillows or even an ironing board or a baby cot in the room. Guest rooms are usually cleaned in the following sequence: first the rooms from which guests have already checked out, then the rooms in which a guest is already checked in and scheduled to sleep in again, and lastly rooms from which a guest is due to check out today. This should be adhered to unless a guest has requested that his or her room be cleaned early in the morning.


Guest rooms and bathrooms should be cleaned daily and all laundry (towels and bedding) should be done regularly. For new guests due to arrive, the laundry should be done before the guests arrive. For guests who have already checked in and are staying over, laundry may be done only every second or third day. Guests may be given the choice to have their towels washed daily or to use the same towels during their stay. The housekeeping attendant should first check which rooms should be cleaned and then check the specific requirements of the guest.


Cleaning of guest rooms

Guest rooms should be cleaned from the left side of the room to the right side, from the top of the room to the bottom of the room. This ensures that all surfaces will be cleaned and that the housekeeper will not need to retrace his/her steps around the room. All the lights should be switched on and the curtains opened. Windows should be opened to let in fresh air. The cleaning supplies should be brought into the room, with the exception of vacuum cleaners, which can remain outside until needed. Empty any dustbins into a large rubbish bag. Strip the bed of all the linen and re-make it with clean linen. Gloves should be worn when doing these tasks to ensure maximum safety. The bed should be made up first, especially in the case of guests who are staying over. These guests may return to the room while it is being cleaned, and a freshly made up bed is a sign of a clean room, even if you are still busy cleaning the rest of the room. Never place clean linen on the guest room floor, but rather on a couch or chair nearby.


Place all dirty linen together in a separate area of the room. Dust the rest of the guest room. Clean the bathroom. Replenish any guest supplies such as soaps, coffee, stationery, etc. Check that the TV, air conditioner and all the lights in the room are working. Check that the television guide is adjusted to the correct date. Vacuum all carpets and clean the bathroom floor. Check the room one final time.


Close all windows, draw the curtains and switch off all the lights. Lastly spray some air freshener in the room. Then alert the manager or receptionist that the room has been cleaned and of any maintenance issues.


The manager or receptionist can then go to inspect the room. This may be done according to a short checklist, indicating all the items which need to be cleaned and replenished in the room.


Good practice is to use a whiteboard in an out-of-the-way area of the guest house/ lodge, for example the kitchen or storeroom, where housekeeping staff can see the updated status of the guest rooms. This whiteboard may simply have columns next to each room number, indicating the surname of the guest who is checked into the room, whether the guest is currently in the room, and how long the guest is staying.


This can assist housekeeping staff to know at all times the status of guest rooms and also to know which guests are due to arrive and which are checking out. This is also an easy way to indicate to staff which rooms only need the towels to be replaced and when the laundry needs to be changed. Any special requests, such as extra blankets, can also be indicated to staff using this board. The manager should update this board regularly during the course of the day, so that the staff do not need to ask the manager, but can just check for themselves on the whiteboard.


Once the room has been cleaned, it is good practice to inspect the guest room to ensure that everything is perfect. From the front office point of view, it would be nice to prepare a personalised welcome letter to welcome guests to their room and the hotel/ lodge. The welcome letter should contain only essential information about hotel procedures, such as guidelines for charges and emergency procedures. If it is a special occasion, such as a honeymoon, birthday or special celebration, the guest house/ lodge can leave a small gift with the welcome letter, such as a fruit basket or bottle of sparkling wine in a wine cooler.

housekeeping lady cleaning room after guest check out

Stage #2 – Arrival

When the guest arrives

There should always be someone present when a guest arrives to check him/her into the hotel or lodge. The guest should be greeted warmly and the person receiving him/her should always smile and introduce him/herself. Make guests feel welcome by enquiring about how their journey was and assisting them to check into the hotel/ guest house/ lodge.



When the guest has been greeted, their details (taken during the reservation) should be confirmed. A registration form can be used to check guest details. It is essential to check how guests will pay for their stay and also for the guests to complete any additional details which may have been left out during the reservation, such as the registration number of vehicles.


You should ask the guests for their surname when they arrive. Ideally, you should know which guests you are expecting to check in each day. Ask them to complete the registration form, and then check to see if they have completed it correctly.


It will also be beneficial to record the time that the guest arrives, in order to bill them correctly from the moment that they checked in. It is also important to verify if a guest has already paid a deposit, so that you can remind him/her of how much they have already paid.


Once registration is completed, provide the guest with the guest room key and offer to assist him/her with luggage, etc. COVID_19 regulations say that guests’ luggage must be sanitized before taken to the room. Show guests the main facilities of the guest house/ lodge, indicating the public areas and important information, such as where to park, which times the doors are locked at night, and breakfast times.


Once you have arrived at their room, open the door for them, let them enter before you, and place their luggage in a convenient place. Show them how to manage the most important features of the room, such as the air conditioner and anything else which may require explanation. Wish the guest a pleasant stay and offer details of how and where they can get hold of you if there is anything additional that they may require.


Guests who arrive at the hotel without having made a reservation (walk-ins)


Some guests may simply arrive at the hotel requesting a room, without actually having contacted the hotel before the time, and therefore not having a reservation.


It is up to the receptionist/ manager to check the reservation chart/ Property Management System (PMS) to see if there are any rooms available and the rates of these rooms. If the room and rate match the guest request, then the same procedure as with other guests should be followed. A reservation should still be completed for the guest, a deposit should be paid and the guest should complete a registration form.

guest checking in at hotel

Stage #3 – Occupancy

While the guest is checked into your hotel

After checking into a room, a guest may have queries with which he/she requires assistance. Such enquiries may include directions to major landmarks in the city, such as the mall or airport, and information regarding restaurants in the area.


Employees should be knowledgeable and offer assistance to guests. It may be a good idea to collect information about major attractions in the area, and keep them in an information directory at the front desk or in a file in each room. Important information contained in this file could be maps, menus of restaurants or Mr Delivery, information on museums, movies, theatres, airports, etc. It is good practice to remember a guest’s surname and be friendly to the guest whenever you see them. Ensure that you use their correct title, such as Mr or Dr. Be sensitive to your guest’s needs and anticipate any requirements that he/she may have.


Each day the guest is still checked in

For each day that the guest is still checked into the hotel, the room should be cleaned and inspected and any specific requests should be adhered to.


Employees should check with the guest if there is anything additional that they may require in order to make their stay more pleasant. An employee should always be present at the guest house/ lodge and the guests should have an after-hours number where they can easily contact the employee for any information.


Stage #4 – Departure

On the day of your guest checking out

Check-out time is usually 10:00 or 11:00, depending on the hotel/ guest house/ lodge policy. This allows sufficient time for the room to be cleaned and prepared for the next guest.


Unless guests ask to check out later than the check-out time, the hotel/ guest house/ lodge could call the guest room to ask if they need assistance with their luggage. This may remind the guest of the pending check-out time. The guest can also be reminded at breakfast.


Ensure that you have mentioned a specific time that guests must check out of their rooms, and that you have confirmed this with the guest when they check in.


This will avoid any misunderstandings on the day of check-out, and ensure that there is sufficient time for the guest room to be cleaned and prepared for the next guest’s arrival. Ask the guest how their stay was. You can also provide the guest with a comment card in their room, which they can hand in when they check out. Any complaints at check-out should be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible. Any complaints or suggestions from guests offer an opportunity for the guest house/ lodge to improve, and such comments should be welcomed by all staff.


Ensure that you are ready for the guest to check out, by checking their account/bill and also the charges that they have incurred while at the guest house/ lodge.


Remember to check that you have entered the deposit correctly. Check that the length of the guest’s stay and the rate charged is correct. Ensure that you are ready to provide the guest with a copy of their account/bill when they check out. Ask the guest to confirm that their account/bill is correct and then ask them to pay. Use a proper method of payment.


Provide the guest with a copy of their account/bill and proof (a receipt) that they have paid their account. Remember to collect the guest room key from the guest, and be sure to ask the guests if they have removed all their belongings from the room. Ask the guests if they require assistance with their luggage and/or directions to their next destination.


Wish them a pleasant journey and thank them for their business.


Payment of the guest account/bill

Guests can pay in cash or with credit/debit cards (if the guest house/ lodge has such facilities). If the guest pays in cash, ensure that you have received the correct amount from the guest and that you have the change available to give the guest. If the guest pays with a credit or debit card, ensure that you check the expiry date on such cards, and compare the guest’s signature with the signature on the back of the card.


With a company or travel agency reservation, the receptionist/ manager should take note of what the company/travel agent will be paying for and what the guest needs to pay for. The company or travel agent’s account/bill needs to be settled by the company or travel agent, according to the procedures negotiated in the original contract. Companies and travel agents usually receive a negotiated rate for the guests and therefore the rate that they pay is different from the rate that other guests will pay. Arrangements for the length of time the company/travel agent has to pay its account with the guest house/ lodge also need to be clearly set out when negotiating with the company/travel agent.


Once the guest has left the establishment

It is important to inform the housekeeping attendant that the guest has checked out, so that the guest room can be cleaned immediately and readied for the next guest to check in. If the housekeeping attendant notices any of the guest’s belongings that might have been left in the room, they should immediately report this to the receptionist/ manager. The guest should be contacted as soon as possible and informed of the item/s that was left in the room. If they still require these items, the guest house/ lodge can make further arrangements with the guest to return the items to the guest.


It is important to keep guest information for future reference. The guests may return to the guest house/ lodge in the future, and then you will not need to ask for all their information again, as you already have it. This will speed up the reservation process and will show the guests that you remember them.


Stage #5 - Post Stay

After the guest has checked out

Never make the mistake of thinking that the relationship ends when the guest checks out. It is important to communicate with the guest and find out about their stay. Ask them to review your service on platforms like Tripadvisor, Booking.com, Facebook, etc. Also advise guests of future specials and incentives that they may receive when they book you again.


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