Are we (finally) hitting the mobile key tipping point?
Are we (finally) hitting the mobile key tipping point?
15 SEPTEMBER 2017 7:54 AM

Room keys via guests’ personal handheld devices has been the promise from the hotel industry for years now, with relatively little ground-level progress. But is the industry finally moving the needle?

Let me know if you heard this one before: Brands and operators across the hotel industry are making a concerted effort to have more hotels allow guests to bypass the front desk by checking in to their rooms via their mobile devices, then using those same devices as the key that unlocks their room.

At this point, it’s not a new concept. It’s been the promise of various companies for a number of years, as they tease massive, brand-wide rollouts of new key technologies designed to make the check-in process more simple and streamlined for guests who don’t need, or want, human interaction as soon as they walk on property.

At least from a guest perspective, adoption doesn’t seem to be as swift as some would have promised. But as I sit here to write this, I am in a hotel in Southern California that lets me walk right to my room and unlock it with my smartphone.

It strikes me as pertinent, that even as a relatively frequent business traveler, this is the first time I’ve stayed on a property that actually lived up to that simple promise. To be fair, there has been at least one other hotel where I used mobile key, but that seemed to have been right after that hotel adopted the technology and they didn’t really trust it yet. So, because of that, I still had to go to the front desk to actually check in, where they gave me traditional room keys, pretty much negating the point of the entire process.

I’m genuinely hopeful that maybe we’ve finally reached the point where the capex and security concerns that seem to have been holding back more widespread adoption have been addressed to the point where this will become a more common occurrence for me as a traveler. It is wonderfully convenient. Though, I have long-heard concerns that the security concerns are more widespread and deep than some hoteliers would care to admit, and we obviously wouldn’t want to fall into another door-lock related crime spree.

I know a lot of people complain about it removing the human element from the hospitality experience. But in my short stay here, I’ve had no shortage of positive human interaction with hotel staff, so I would say that concern could be a bit overblown.

That said, the process isn’t without its issues. At this hotel in particular, I’d say it takes at least five times longer to unlock my door than if I had a traditional key. To be fair, we’re judging a process that takes seconds typically, so any delay will seem dramatic.

I also came across an unintended concern midday. I wanted to run out of my room for something, then realized my phone’s battery was almost completely drained. The bulk of the problem there is my own creation, but it still left me shackled to my guestroom for a period that I’d rather not have been as I waited to charge.

Then there was that first time I used a mobile door key, and for some reason the system checked me out of my room hours before I was ready to go, locking me out from my stuff for a period.

While that list might seem like an argument against more widespread adoption, I think it’s the opposite. More common usage will necessitate a streamlined and improved process that will allow the overall convenience of mobile keys to shine.

Hopefully, that point is right around the corner.

What do you think? Let me know via email or on Twitter.

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