Electronic locks going mobile in 2015

This is part one of a three-part series on electronic locks in 2015. Look to next week's technology newsletters for the rest of the series.

Starting last year, mobile keys made a splash and that trend will be in full swing this year. Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide started testing out virtual keys at the Aloft Harlem in New York and Aloft Cupertino in California last year. The company plans to roll it out to other hotel brands this year.

As a means to improving the customer experience, mobile keys will continue to dominate the electronic locks discussion in 2015. “It’s the only thing customers want to discuss this year,” said Alastair Cush, director of product marketing at Kaba Access & Data Systems.

Driven by the biggest player, the smaller players are looking to adopt mobile keys as well, said Christophe Sut, VP of product and marketing at ASSA ABLOY Hospitality. “All type of players will see this as bringing value—it’s very convenient and it creates a unique customer experience,” he said.

While mobile key is the newest innovation, not all hotels will want to use the technology, said Matthew Mrowczynski, VP of global hospitality at Salto Systems. He sees a new trend for this year of curbside check-in with hotel tablets. “Five-star hotels want to offer personalized hospitality—they don’t want guests sneaking in the back door,” he said.

Online systems for electronic locks have been an evolving technology as well. A few years ago, only the larger Las Vegas properties and large city properties used online locks, but smaller hotels are exploring the technology as well, said Cush. Labor savings come into play for those smaller hotels. Instead of deploying staff to manually check electronic room locks when an employee leaves, the hotel staff can use the online system to bulk disable a key.

With online systems, electronic locks can integrate with energy management systems, other workforce management systems and give hoteliers data to use efficiently.

Sut believes that invisible door locks that encase the electronic hardware in the door itself will continue to grow in 2015. Architects and designers have seen traditional locks as an obstacle, Sut said. “This is a much trendier, more attractive option.” Among the panel screen features, properties can tailor the screen to be unique to the hotel or to the guest.

But mobile will dominate the discussions for most hoteliers this year, but there will be factors to consider. “The high-level technology questions are being answered but there are more things to consider,” Cush said. “There is an impact on hotel operations; an impact on the guest experience;  and an impact on room allocation, legal, security. There are many other questions that need to be answered. There’s a lot of preparation hoteliers need to do.”