The Smartphone Room Key

by Daniel Nikulin
smartphone room key

In catching up to the airline industry, prominent North American hotel chains are preparing to give guests a lot more control over their hotel experience by way of mobile phone apps.

What is currently being piloted by Starwood Hotels and Resorts will eventually become the industry norm and your smartphone will play a big role. May it be a cost-cutting measure, keeping up with technology or just plain ol’ good customer service, the hotel sector is finally looking at available technology to speed up lobby wait times, streamline the check-in process and hopefully deliver an overall better, hassle-free hotel stay.

To date, only Starwood Hotels and Resorts (operating brands Sheraton, Westin, Element, Aloft and W) promise a ‘fully mobile check-in experience’ by allowing guests to make reservations, check-in and now, even unlock their hotel room door with a swipe of their cellular phone. Currently available at only 10 Aloft, Element and W hotels, Starwood plans to expand the service to almost 150 more properties in those three brands by mid next year.

SPG AppTo take advantage, iPhone and Android users simply download the Starwood Preferred Guest app, SPG Keyless, register their phone on the app and allow push notifications, as that’s how the hotel will communicate with you. When your room is ready and available for check-in, a Starwood notification is sent and a room number is advised. Once you have a room number, you can by-pass the lobby’s check-in counter altogether, turn on your phone’s Bluetooth and head straight to your room. Like programmable room keys, the app would also be used to access the fitness room and pool area, parking garage, executive floors and elevators as well as arranging a wake-up call or charging a poolside drink to your room.  Starwood claims their mobile room keys are as secure as current key card technology and although they rely on the internet,  AES encryption of data ensures security.

Although slightly different from Starwood’s new program, Marriott International currently boasts 330 North American hotels that offer online check-in, with all 4,000 worldwide properties coming on board by year’s end. With Marriott, when a room becomes available, guests receive a notification and are able to pick-up an old-fashioned, pre-programmed hotel key, waiting for them at the front desk with a dedicated express line to fast-track it all.

Hilton’s HHonors mobile app currently works with four of their brands – Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and Canopy with plans to use Starwood-style mobile room keys by the end of 2015 across these brands. Through their app, Hilton guests will even get a hotel map to select an available room themselves, much like selecting an airplane seat. By 2016, all 11 Hilton brands including DoubleTree, Hampton Inn and Embassy Suites will be equipped with the technology.

The InterContinental Hotels group is currently testing express check-in at 60 properties while Hyatt is focusing on their frequent guests and are testing pre-programmed permanent keys for guests at six of their hotels.

While the mobile room key revolution will undoubtedly prove popular with business travellers and the tech savvy, hotel chains realize that many of us still enjoy the romance of moseying up to the front desk, being greeted by hotel staff and the whole human aspect of checking-in to a hotel, not to mention, a fraction of the population that’s still not equipped with the technology themselves, and promises to keep old fashioned check-in and room keys as an option for the foreseeable future.


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