Allowing guests to open their guestrooms using their mobile devices involves more than the door lock. Mobile access brings multiple parts of a hotel’s operations together as part of a reimagined guest experience.
“There’s a bit of a misconception that you can put a lock on a door and open it with a cell phone, but it’s not quite that easy,” said Bill Oliver, president, North America, at Assa Abloy Hospitality, parent company of electronic hotel lock and safe provider VingCard Elsafe. “The real question is, can you demonstrate an end-to-end solution?”
Operationally, allowing a guest to access their guestroom using their mobile device involves an integration that extends from a hotel’s mobile app, through the hotel’s reservations and property management system and out to the trusted service provider for the mobile access solution, said Oliver. “It’s not just opening a door,” said Oliver. “From a brand standpoint, hotels need to define what they want their overall customer experience to be.”
The way mobile check-in works as a guest experience will vary based on a hotel’s demographics and market niche. “Mobile check-in is going to cater to a specific group of people,” said Matthew Mrowczynski, VP of global hospitality at access control systems provider SALTO Systems. “It will maybe be popular with people in their 20s who grew up with cell phones.”
Mobile locks can fall into the trap of training a guest, said Mrowczynski. “You don’t want to try to train a guest,” Mrowczynski said. “It’s like the first time we used an ATM—many were skeptical. So for phones, it’s great technology and it’s going to happen for large groups of people, but I think some of the generations, like boomers, are just going to say ‘Give me a key.’”
Hotels catering to different market niches will also treat mobile check-in differently because they treat their guests differently. “For a full-service, high-end hotel, people want to be recognized as a frequent stay member,” said Mrowczynski. “So they’re going to be reaching out more one-on-one with tablet check-in. There’s more guest and staff interaction.”
Is Bluetooth low energy bouncing back?
This year, the world of mobile door locks saw a series of reversals as Bluetooth low energy garnered a burst of attention over what had seemed to be the technology to watch, NFC.
“Bluetooth low energy exploded this year,” said Alastair Cush, director of product marketing at access control company Kaba. “The biggest thing is compatibility with the iPhone, which is still the market share leader in the smartphone market.”
Apple has announced new iPhone models with some NFC capabilities: the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. However, the new iPhone’s NFC capabilities were announced as part of Apple’s new mobile payments system, Apple Pay, and it is unclear if mobile lock vendors will be able to build on those capabilities. Even if the iPhone 6 series becomes compatible with a future NFC locking solution, it will take some time for the older, non-NFC models to drop out of the market.
Bluetooth had been a candidate for mobile locks as far back as the 1990s, but the power consumption it required was a drawback, said Matthew Mrowczynski, VP of global hospitality at access control systems provider SALTO Systems. “You tended to leave the lock in an open mode to capture Bluetooth communications, and it just killed the battery in the lock.”
Security and mobile door locks: Who takes the responsibility?
A mobile door lock poses a different security environment than a card-based lock, and meeting this challenge will require multiple parties to work together.
“The biggest difference is in the past when you made a key card, it was using software that the hotelier knew,” said Alastair Cush, director of product marketing at access control company Kaba. “It was essentially a closed system, with a known encoder, PC, hotel network and key card.”
With a mobile lock, the hotel does not own all the systems involved. “The phone is owned by somebody, produced by somebody else and on somebody else’s network,” said Cush. “It’s an open environment, and this is where secure mobile credential delivery systems come in, to offer security in an open environment,” he said.
Delivering secure mobile credentials over the air poses a unique set of challenges.
“You have to go through a trusted service provider to provision the key,” said Bill Oliver, president, North America, at Assa Abloy Hospitality, parent company of electronic hotel lock and safe provider VingCard Elsafe.
“At the end of the day, everyone wants to do this and monetize this, so it can get expensive if the providers don’t have the proper infrastructure to deliver it,” Oliver said.
Along with infrastructure, the quality of the encryption is a key piece of the puzzle. “Hoteliers should be asking any vendors they’re talking to about encryption,” Oliver advised.
At the same time, the security of a mobile door lock is a part of the larger shift in guest security as hoteliers have gained access to more guest data.
“Hoteliers are already working to meet these challenges because with so much personal information involved in some of these apps and loyalty programs, mobility does continually challenge hoteliers on the security side,” said Cush.
“So, mobile keys will add to that. But hoteliers, when you go into a hotel chain and you sit with the team on innovation, security, design and construction, security is definitely a part of that conversation,” he added.