Sources: Keyless entry worth the effort
14 JANUARY 2015 3:48 PM
Lock upgrades to change over to keyless entry are inevitable, but the benefits of such a system are worth the effort, sources say.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hotel owners and operators everywhere will be increasingly tasked with preparing for and embracing the burgeoning keyless mobile check-in trend, which is already well on its way to making plastic hotel key cards a thing of the past.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and Hilton Worldwide Holdings are in the early stages of multi-brand rollouts, while other major players also are eyeing the space.
For many hoteliers, the process of ensuring their properties adapt to this new technology is now a growing priority, and there’s some room for working out the kinks. For example, in these early stages, experts recommend retrofitting locks to permit guestroom access with traditional room keys, in addition to mobile devices. Training and support from the brands also will be critical as adoption continues to progress.
“The breadth of this undertaking is huge. The U.S. deployment next year alone involves updating the locks on more than 100,000 room doors,” said Dustin Bomar, VP of digital acquisition for Hilton.
“Before our proprietary mobile-key technology becomes publically available to our guests, we’re committed to training our team members to ensure they understand the technology and are empowered to deliver the world-class hospitality and customer service we are known for. Training will be delivered digitally and available through desktop, tablet and mobile,” he added.
Starting in 2015, Hilton plans to introduce keyless mobile check-in in three stages across all U.S. properties of four brands, beginning with pilot testing at 10 U.S. properties in early 2015. Bomar said the mobile-key solution will be live at all U.S.-based Conrad Hotels & Resorts properties beginning in early 2015, and the rollout will then continue across the Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Canopy by Hilton brands beginning in summer 2015. Then in 2016, Hilton plans to deploy the mobile-key technology across 11 brands globally.
Starwood Hotels’ initiative, backed by a $15-million investment, is similarly ambitious. After launching its SPG Keyless solution at select properties (Aloft Beijing; Aloft Cancun; Aloft Cupertino; Aloft Harlem; W Doha; W Hollywood; W Hong Kong; W New York-Downtown; W Singapore; and Element Times Square), the technology is now slated for 30,000 doors at all of Starwood’s 150 global W, Aloft and Element hotels by early 2015. The degree of change required at the hotel level as this effort progresses will vary based upon the existing lock hardware at each property, according to Chris Holdren, senior VP of global and digital at Starwood Preferred Guest.
“Depending on the lock system in the hotel, the hardware update either requires adding a module to the existing lock or replacing the lock itself,” he said. “All hotels will need to update the key system software. The locks will not look any different to a guest from the outside, as they will still have traditional key card capability.”
Although maintaining a two-pronged traditional key card/mobile key solution alleviates many of the potential user wireless issues (i.e. dead phone batteries, lost phones, etc.), lingering questions still remain regarding the security of mobile room keys. Sources, however, said the nature of the mobile smartphone connection offers a more airtight exchange than similar wireless solutions, such as those that use radio frequency.
“Mobile keys are sent to the guest’s phone over the Internet using (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption and cryptographic hash functions specific to the user’s mobile phone and guestroom, and cannot be used to access any other guestroom,” Holdren said. “Starwood has also hired an independent third-party security firm to conduct ‘penetration testing’ on both the locks and the SPG mobile app to identify for remediation any vulnerabilities.”
Cost and benefits
Cost is another factor in such a widespread effort, which might maje an owner cringe. Starwood pointed to its $15-million outlay, while Hilton said it’s working to ensure owners will only cover expenses when necessary.
“While Hilton Worldwide is picking up the bulk of the costs for the mobile-enabled room key rollout, owners of Hilton-franchised hotels will be required to make a modest investment in their properties to upgrade them for the new technology,” Bomar said. “However, we’re committed to ensuring the new technology is rolled out at our hotels in the most cost-effective manner possible.”
Experts tout the potential of mobile marketing—particularly via Bluetooth-enabled devices—as the justification for the potential hassle and expense of implementing keyless entry. Besides just accommodating tech-savvy guests, offering new features such as mobile check-in/keyless entry helps drive the overall use of branded hotel mobile apps. The goal is to then turn around and drive on-property sales and customer loyalty through that app’s connection.
“It gives hotels very interesting capabilities,” said Robert Cole, founder of hospitality tech consultancy RockCheetah. “If you’re down in the lobby by the bar at 10 o’clock, they can suddenly ping you with a two-for-one on Guinness, because you love Guinness. …That’s powerful, so I think that wins out over, ‘We might be inconveniencing some guests who are old-school and don’t have this stuff.’”