Early adopters keen on keyless entry
22 SEPTEMBER 2015 8:01 AM
Hoteliers who have been early adopters of using smartphones in place of room keys say the process of adopting the new technology has gone well so far.
GLOBAL REPORT—Guests walking into your hotel don’t want to immediately stand in line or worry about losing a keycard. They want to know they can quickly and easily walk into their room as long as they’re paying to stay there, sources said.
Nixing those few minutes in the lobby and freeing guests of a keycard might seem like a small change to some, but many hoteliers are betting it’s an impactful one. That’s why more companies are investing in technology that allows guests to use their smartphones in lieu of keys, bypassing the traditional check-in process.
Hilton Worldwide Holdings first started piloting the use of its “Digital Key” program—which allows guests to check in, choose a specific room and unlock their door all through their phone—in July and is approaching 1 million digital check-ins per month. The company expects to expand its use across Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts and Canopy by Hilton through 2016, with adoption expected for more than 170,000 rooms across 250 U.S. properties.
Dana Shefsky, director of digital product innovation at Hilton, said the move allows guests to have more meaningful exchanges with the hotel staff than they might during traditional check-in.
“By giving our guests access to processes that have traditionally been managed by front-desk staff, like choosing their room or issuing their key, we’re enabling our team members to have more personal and less transactional interactions with guests,” Shefsky said, noting that a third of travelers admit to losing keycards.
Lance McCurdy, GM of the Aloft Cupertino, one of two properties that piloted the Starwood Preferred Guest keyless mobile check-in program, said mobile apps go a long way toward addressing that problem.
“Most people don’t lose their phones,” McCurdy said.
Gül Heper, commercial manager for HTL Hotels, said her company has been using mobile keys since June 2014, just a month after the company’s first hotel opened its doors to the public. She said while most guests still use traditional keycards, those who do use the mobile app as keys use it often and are likely to talk glowingly about it.
“Guests really appreciate it,” Heper said. “They’re a little bit surprised it’s already a possibility. So in a way, many become ambassadors for us. They become loyal guests and talk about it on social media. People are spreading the word because (mobile keys) are still not in common use.”
As with any new technologies, mobile keys aren’t without their own issues, although hoteliers say the worst-case scenario seems to be just temporarily going back to the current typical way of doing things.
When moving key functionality to a smartphone, guests and hoteliers are susceptible to all the downsides of that technology, including limited battery life, but Heper said those guests are simply tasked with approaching a front-desk employee to get another key if that happens.
Heper said HTL also is improving guestroom door locks this year so that the mobile keys work even during power outages.
Shefsky said a big hurdle for the mobile apps is integrating with other parts of the hotel that a keycard would typically grant access to, such as secured elevators or parking garages.
“We learned that in integrating the mobile app with other property systems could sometimes prove challenging,” Shefsky said. “For example, enabling the digital key to work with secured elevators and parking garages can be challenging due to the multitude of vendors and configurations that exist in the field.”
McCurdy, who noted about 20% of guests use mobile keys at his property, said instead of issues with the technology itself, the biggest obstacle early on is just educating guests on how to use it and help address confusion over the new tech.
“One of our main issues is guests who have more than one phone,” McCurdy said. “Sometimes they’ll come to the desk, and we’re able to go into the phone and look at the device ID. And we’ll have to tell them they opted in with another phone.”
But despite the pain associated with any new wide-scale technology, each of the three sources said mobile key adoption has been largely painless.
“While we’ve fixed little nuances here and there, overall we are very pleased with how the technology is working,” Shefsky said.
Heper agreed that the process has been relatively straightforward, and housing the keys within the chain’s mobile app offers guests a more streamlined approach that lets them make a reservation, check in, unlock their door and access an interactive city guide all in the same place.
“I’d say it’s been quite smooth sailing, as long as they find the app,” Heper said. “They can also share their key by just entering a phone number.”
She said mobile keys are doing what they were intended to do, so far.
“The main objective with the mobile key is to offer an improved guest experience and offer it on the guest’s terms,” Heper said. “This offers a smart solution to guests who prefer to have full control over their life and travel.”
HNN’s Alicia Hoisington contributed to this report.