How Smart Phones Can Double As Hotel Room Keys

Hotel properties are experimenting with new technologies that could render today’s hotel room key obsolete. If the tests prove successful, and are rolled out on a larger scale, gone will be the days of carrying around an additional key and waiting in line to check in. The prospect of heading straight to the room upon arrival and bypassing the front desk is an appealing one.

To provide better customer service, several major hotel chains are testing mobile phone hotel door lock technology and radio-frequency identification (RFID) enabled cards as alternative means for room entry. Annoyances like long check in lines or demagnetized strips that require a trek back down to the lobby could go away.

Mobile Phones
Hilton and the InterContinental Hotels Group are testing OpenWays technology in select hotels and cities, which enables room access by holding a mobile phone up to the lock. Guests who sign up for mobile entry receive a text with their room number and then a second text with a phone number to dial when they get to the room. When dialed, an audible tone is sent over the phone which unlocks the door when the phone is held next to it. For security reasons, tones are active for only a few seconds and are continuously refreshed.

Sounds like heaven, but it looks like people need more time to get comfortable with the new technology before widespread adoption takes root. Verchele Wiggins, vp, global brand management at Holiday Inn is quoted by the WSJ as saying “there was a learning curve for users to figure out how to position the phone so the door would unlock.” And Hilton says only a small percentage of invited guests opted to try the new mobile phone key technology during the six month trial period.

Loyalty Programs
Business and frequent travellers who are members of hotel loyalty programs will be further rewarded as their loyalty cards become permanent room keys. Rather than use mobile technology, some chains, like Starwood, are turning their loyalty cards into permanent keys that returning guests can use for multiple stays. The cards are embedded with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip which can be remotely turned on and off by the hotel and assigned to specific rooms.

Starwood has introduced their “Smart Check-In” program at three of its Aloft hotels and 5,000 Starwood Preferred Guest members have received loyalty cards that can be used as RFID keys. Starwood already has plans to expand RFID keyless entry to two additional Aloft hotels, including Brooklyn, New York.

Hyatt is testing “Express Welcome” service at two Andaz hotels where guests use their Gold Passport loyalty card as a key. When a guest uses the key for the first time, a message is sent to the front desk and the guest is greeted with a welcome call in their room. 

To date, tests have been implemented on a small scale as users get familiar with the technology and security concerns are allayed. It’s difficult to imagine that the technology won’t eventually take off as consumers become increasingly more comfortable using their phones for flight check-ins and travel overall.

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