NEW YORK • The time has come to ask this question: Why pay for an overnight hotel stay when you need a room during the day for only a few hours or even just a few minutes?
By-the-hour hotel rooms are not a novel concept.
In fact, they have a reputation for being used for illicit reasons, said Mr Sean Hennessy, a hotel consultant and an assistant professor of hospitality at the Jonathan M. Tisch Centre for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University.
But while these brief rentals are traditionally found at budget hotels, the enterprises today involve higher-end properties and are targeting middle-class to affluent customers.
"Now, more than ever before, the hotel industry is focused on trying to generate as much revenue as possible and taking advantage of empty rooms during the day is one way to do that," Mr Hennessy said.
The guests who might book these rooms, he said, include travellers with layovers, corporate guests who need a quiet place to work and do not have an office in town and local residents who are seeking some downtime during the day and find it more convenient to check into a hotel near where they are rather than go back home.
Mr Hennessy said it can often be too logistically challenging for hotels to try to sell rooms for small pockets of time on their own.
Instead, a growing number of properties are collaborating with companies that can help them.
One example is HotelsbyDay.com, with a presence in more than 60 cities in the United States, including New York City, Chicago and Denver, as well as in London and Paris.
The brand works with more than 600 hotels in the three-to five-star categories.
Rooms are available to book for a minimum of four hours between 9am and 7pm.
Pricing varies by destination, but chief executive officer Yannis Moati said the average is US$90 (S$118) for four hours.
Dayuse.com, available for 4,000 hotels in 22 countries, also partners three-to five-star properties, with a three-hour minimum on reservations.
And now, with the app Recharge, users can book rooms by the minute at luxury properties in New York City and San Francisco.
Recharge started in San Francisco in 2016 and last April in New York City. The app can be used to book rooms by the minute in about 20 hotels in each destination, at any time of the day or night.
Many are five-star properties, such as The Surrey and The Pierre in New York City and the Taj Campton Place in San Francisco and some are in the four-star category.
This year, the service will expand to Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington.
The company's co-founder and chief executive Manny Bamfo said he started Recharge because he believed that there was a demand for hotel stays in minute-long increments.
These stays can be booked for immediate visits or up to a day in advance, but booking is only through the app.
Recharge's customers - more than 30,000 as of November - are mostly local residents and include mothers who want a clean place to nurse their babies or pump their breast milk, people seeking a quiet space to take a phone call and those seeking a mid-day reprieve.
"We've even had fathers who need to change their child's diaper and would rather do it in a hotel room than in a coffee shop bathroom," Mr Bamfo said.
"You pay for the amount of time you need and nothing more."
Hotels benefit too.
According to the company's research, a 250-room hotel can get almost 275-rooms' worth of revenue in one day from these short stays.
Every hotel listed on Recharge's app has a service fee, ranging from US$30 to US$50.
The more luxurious the hotel, the higher the fee. After the service fee, per minute prices for the stays range from 50 US cents to US$2.
Pricing for the same property can fluctuate throughout the day, depending on supply and demand, and some hotels may have a minimum charge at certain times.
And given the intense competition in the hospitality industry, the clock is now ticking for even more players to jump on this bandwagon.