Hotel guests use smartphones as room keys

Starwood Hotels and Resorts

On Monday, Starwood Hotels and Resorts went on to become the first chain to let guests unlock doors with their phones.

Hotel guests will not be required to linger at the front desk or even stop by at all. New applications are helping speed up the check-in approach for busy travelers, or in at least one case, letting them go directly to their rooms by making use of their smartphone to unlock doors.

Hotels today are trying to catch up to airlines. Fliers often utilize their phones to check in, choose seats and as a boarding pass. Hotels too envisage a similar relationship, with guests who can ultimately order poolside drinks through an app.

On Monday, Starwood Hotels and Resorts went on to become the first chain to let guests unlock doors with their phones. The feature is currently available only at 10 Aloft, Element and W hotels but will expand to 140 more properties in those brands by the middle of 2015.

Hilton Worldwide is the only other hotel chain, who has plans for mobile room keys, which it says will be rolled out at the end of 2015 at some U.S. properties.

Other hotel companies are finding various other ways to streamline the arrival process.

Last year, Marriott International launched the ability to check in via its app at 330 North American hotels. The program will be live at all 4,000 hotels worldwide by the end of this year. A message is sent across to the guest’s phone whenever a room becomes available. Traditional room keys are pre-programmed and waiting at the front desk. A special express line enables guests to bypass crowds, show their IDs and get their keys.

The services are aimed towards people who do not want to slow down and hotels are trying to get more travelers comfortable using their mobile apps to interact.

“If you’re at the end of a long day, you might want a little less of a chatty experience. But if you’re showing up at a new resort, you may want to know what the pool hours are,” says Brett Cowell, vice president of information technology for Hyatt, which is testing permanent keys for frequent guests at six hotels.

Switching to smartphone room keys isn’t that simple. Starwood’s app uses a Bluetooth data connection to communicate. Each hotel room will be required to have a new lock that can communicate with phones.

And then, there is the issue of security. Guests wouldn’t want the phone in their pocket to accidently unlock the door. Hence Starwood requires the smartphone to actually touch a pad on the outside of the door to unlock it. Additionally, only one phone can be linked to a room at a time. So in case two people are staying in the room, the second traveller will need to have a traditional key.

Marriott for the time being is holding off on smartphone keys until all the potential bugs can be resolved. But for the frequent business traveler, this might just be the time-saver they are looking for.

 

Sonal Patel

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