Issues loom for keyless entry in hotels
09 APRIL 2015 11:21 AM
As keyless entry becomes more mainstream in the years to come, hotel companies will have a number of integration issues to conquer, sources said.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As hotel companies across the industry begin to embrace keyless entry technology, they will also need to work out the challenges that go hand in hand with such integration.
Major conglomerates such as Hilton Worldwide Holdings and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide are continuing to conduct pilot testing across multiple properties and brands. Starwood is backing up the technology with a $15-million investment. 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 company is now installing SPG Keyless in 30,000 doors at all of its 150 global W, Aloft and Element hotels.
In the meantime, Hilton is pilot testing its own mobile-enabled room key technology at 10 U.S. properties. By year’s end, the company expects to offer the digital amenity at all U.S. properties of four brands: Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Canopy by Hilton. Looking ahead to 2016, Hilton will then deploy the technology at scale across 11 brands globally. Similar to the SPG Keyless solution, Hilton’s keyless entry platform is driven by the company’s branded mobile app. Hilton hopes the keyless system will drive usage of the app, which hoteliers can then use to drive incremental revenue through mobile devices. It’s a potentially major revenue source to sway hoteliers who might still be on the fence.
Generally, the keyless process involves first outfitting only a portion of a hotel’s locks with the new mobile technology, which creates less disruption from an operations perspective. At the moment, the complications might be magnified for multi-brand, multi-property operators piloting more than one keyless system from more than one brand/vendor, but sources said that this somewhat disjointed approach may actually be preferable to a universal solution; at least until keyless tech is a little further along in its development cycle.
Hotel technology experts pointed to the integration challenges that could loom for hotels that go the keyless route.
“The dictating of the single solution, if that single solution is a problem, then all of your hotels globally have this lock that’s a problem, and that’s a problem for the central group,” said Robert Cole, founder and CEO of tech consultancy RockCheetah. “Do your costs also go up because you’re only using one vendor and there’s not a competitive situation? It’s very complicated.”
Sources at Hilton and Starwood declined to discuss cost issues related to the technology.
While not discussing the company’s own potential involvement in keyless technology, Dan Flannery, regional executive VP for North America at Langham Hospitality Group, said hotel companies need to be on guard during the implementation process.
“My outlook on that is you have to be careful you’re not getting too cute and you are truly making it easier for the guest,” he said. “Guests can get frustrated when they can’t turn on the lights or shut the drapes (for example.)”
Some observers aren’t quite convinced though, especially when it comes to the security of the new keyless systems. At the moment both Hilton and Starwood are offering only a cursory overview of the security features driving the new keyless systems, deferring much of the technical specification to the vendors, who in turn are avoiding specifics due to the confidential nature of their respective proprietary technologies.
Security could also be a concern, sources said.
“Manufacturers don’t really talk about it, because it may be ‘proprietary,’” explained Doug Rice, executive VP and CEO of Hotel Technology Next Generation, a nonprofit industry trade association which is working to compile metrics on various locking systems so hoteliers can comparison-shop. “Manufacturers have a legitimate interest in really not talking about the security, because they really don’t want their competitors to steal anything that is good and they don’t want anybody to know about what isn’t good. We’re working with both the hotel companies and the locking system vendors on that issue. Will we get to a point where everybody can agree on some rules? It’s hurting everybody right now.”
The brands respond
Hoteliers are relying heavily on guidance from franchisors and vendors at the moment as the industry embraces the new keyless lock trend.
Although keyless entry solutions—which in their latest iteration allow a traveler to unlock their guestroom with their cellphone or mobile device—represent a considerable advancement from customary plastic key cards, those involved with the new technology stress it’s not a radical departure in terms of what’s required from hotel operators, yet the potential payoff of this emerging technology is exciting for both brands and operators.
“Tapping into today’s rapidly evolving technology and people’s mobile lifestyles, we know that the desire for this technology is there,” said Chris Holdren, senior VP of global and digital at Starwood Preferred Guest & Digital. “Our tech-savvy guests manage most aspects of their life and travel from their smartphone, and many no longer want to keep track of or fumble with keycards each time they enter their room. Because of this, we are constantly working ahead of the curve to implement the latest technologies and all of our brands are constant working laboratories for the latest innovations.”
Starwood sources explained some hoteliers might need to add a module to existing locks or replace the lock completely, but otherwise the new locks still accept older plastic key cards and look the same from the outside. The response among both guests and staff has reportedly been positive so far.
“Our pilot guests were thrilled to be part of the next-gen way of hoteling and eager to use the technology at more properties,” said Holdren. “Not to mention, our associates were all excited by the opportunity to provide an additional level of personalization for guests upon check-in, changing the first interaction from transactional—asking for ID and credit card—to personal, greeting guests and making sure they have everything they need.”
Digital tools offer franchises a high return on investment through increased brand loyalty and revenue from push notifications, upselling opportunities and pre-arrival requests, said Dustin Bomar, VP of digital acquisition at Hilton.
“Everything we do—including the implementation of new digital tools—is designed to better serve our guests so they’re more loyal to our brands, thereby driving business and generating revenue for our owners,” he said.
Hilton and Starwood are assuring guests the new solution is just as secure as the traditional plastic key cards. While earlier keyless solutions such as those using radio frequency identification are notoriously porous, experts believe the newest round of mobile-based systems offer a more ironclad method.
“We prioritize guest and property safety above all else. The locks and mobile keys are designed to be equally secure as traditional room keys,” Bomar said. “Mobile keys are sent to the guest’s phone over the internet using (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption and cryptographic hash functions. These mobile keys are specific to a user’s mobile phone and guestroom. They cannot be used on any other mobile phone and cannot be used to access any other guestroom.”
Hotel News Now’s Shawn A. Turner contributed to this report.