6 things to consider when moving to mobile key

Before selecting any access platform, hoteliers first must determine if the vendor is capable of providing a proven solution with future-proof abilities. Photo credit: Assa Abloy Global Solutions

Mobile key adoption is rising among hotels. Hotels’ use of mobile devices as room keys had a sizable two-year increase, moving from 6 percent in 2016 to 17 percent in 2018. Mobile device check-in definitely is a trend among midprice and higher segments, according to a 2018 lodging survey from the American Hotel & Lodging Association. For properties and brands that are thinking about transitioning, there are six things to consider when making the move to mobile key. 

1. Purpose. Hoteliers should ask what their end game is with mobile key, said David Ginn, dormakaba’s VP of hospitality sales. “Do you want it because it’s cool or is it to truly make your hotel better?” he said. “To help your hotel be more efficient would be the ideal answer—it will enhance the customer-service aspect.” 

Other common improvements with the move to mobile key include improved guest safety, convenience, the ability to skip the front desk, traction for the hotel loyalty program and environmental sustainability, said Brian Shedd, VP of sales and marketing for OpenKey. 


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2. Cost. Hotels that adopt mobile key as the first option for guests see the best adoption and return on investment, Shedd said. Hotels that offer mobile key as a secondary option to the traditional plastic keycard typically see much lower guest usage. “Typically, mobile key costs the hotel about half what [a radio frequency] ID keycard costs, but there may be no cost savings versus a magstripe keycard,” he continued.

Some mobile-enabled locks use Bluetooth technology to stay in a ready state, so guests can unlock while they’re on the move, without having to stop their stride or touch the phone to the lock. Photo credit: Onity

3. Options. Implementing a mobile key system does not always require a full lock replacement. To save deployment costs and time, some systems include a module that can be retrofitted into existing locks. “Hotels should evaluate how a mobile access solution can work with their existing brand loyalty app, or for independent properties, how they can provide a mobile guest experience without significant IT investment,” said Onity President Fayyad Sbaihat. “This minimizes cost and reduces the time to develop and implement a mobile key system.”

Hoteliers should consider whether they want to invest in brand new Bluetooth Low Energy locks that are made to work with mobile key, or upgrade their existing RFID or magstripe locks with a BLE module, Shedd said. “If the locks are over 10 years old and the internal parts are beginning to fail, it’s probably best to go with new BLE locks,” he said. “If the locks are in good condition, it will be less expensive to upgrade with a BLE module.”

It is incredibly important to understand the various mobile key alternatives that are available in the marketplace, said Michael Cline, VP of hospitality sales for Salto Systems. “Choose the one that has the flexibility to address all the hotelier’s concerns and don’t settle—there are plenty of options out there,” he said.

Hotels that adopt mobile key as a ‘first option’ for guests see the best adoption and ROI.
Photo credit: OpenKey

4. Training. The decision of selecting a mobile key vendor also should take into account the need to adequately prepare and train hotel staff, said Nicolas Aznar, president, Americas at Assa Abloy Global Solutions.

 “A reputable vendor will work with employees to make sure they are knowledgeable on how the mobile key solution and internal processes function in order to ensure deployment success,” he said. “This may include training on how to know when a room is blocked, who issued a digital key and when, as well as how to effectively communicate the benefits of mobile key technology to guests to maximize awareness and usage rates.”  
5. Integrations. With hotel services and operations increasingly becoming integrated to provide greater convenience and efficiency, hoteliers must consider a mobile key solution’s ability to seamlessly integrate with their guest-facing mobile apps and features that may be provided by other companies, Aznar said. “Hotels should further examine a mobile key platform’s ability to integrate with operational solutions such as their [property-management system] to ensure a straightforward implementation process,” he said. 

6. Security. Hotels will need a mobile access system that supplements the security features that already exist in hotel locks, such as access permissions and audit trails, Sbaihat said. On top of the first level of encryption, the best systems provide an additional security layer with a 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard key that is unique to the door lock for which the credential was generated. 

What’s next in door lock technology?

Guests at the FlyZoo Hotel in Hangzhou, China, can get into their rooms with facial recognition instead of keycards. FlyZoo uses the photos taken at check-in to verify that the users are staying at the hotel. Guests have to small for the camera to even get on the elevators in addition to their guestrooms. 

Mobile lock and app technology can improve a hotel’s customer service. Photo credit: dormakaba

While fingerprint and retinal scans are a budding technology in Asian hotels, many experts agree that might not be right for other parts of the world. “I don’t see guests wanting to provide that level of personal identification to access their hotel room since that would entail registering fingerprints and retinal ID with the hotel and potentially other third parties,” Shedd said. 

Shedd believes that hotel door locks will continue to get smaller and more design-centric, but the hotel industry overall has a very low penetration of BLE locks still so it will be a few years until there’s a need to develop the next generation of lock technology while the industry catches up to what is currently available.

Ginn also believes that the enhancements to Bluetooth technology is where the lock industry is heading in the future. “The lock will become more and more invisible with more automatic sensing,” he said. “Technology balanced by the basic fundamental goal of protecting the guest and their assets is where the future is heading.” 

One important technological change happening at this point is the removal of a central computer in the hotel premises to control the locks, Aznar said. “Solutions are moving to the cloud to provide a multitude of security and operational benefits,” he said. “For example, cloud-based abilities allow hoteliers to manage their security access operations from virtually anywhere in the world and at any time,” he said. “Should a security risk arise, such hoteliers no longer need to be physically present at a terminal in order to respond to a threat.”

A solution that operates in the cloud can also instantly receive regular software patches to newly identified security vulnerabilities the moment that they are discovered, Aznar continued. A cloud-based access management system also does not require bulky on-site servers, freeing up valuable space while eliminating the hassle of on-site property maintenance via recurrent updates. 

“Among other benefits of cloud-based solutions is the enhanced scalability, allowing hoteliers to easily implement additional functions and services as new needs arise,” he said.

Why integrations are important for mobile key 

The hotel industry is exploring what a “smart” hotel room should look like. Most agree that it involves allowing the guest to control the temperature and lighting from their smartphone as well as stream music and television content to create a personalized experience, Shedd said. He takes it a step further: “Connecting these smart hotel room features with the guestroom lock facilitates a more sophisticated energy-management solution and ties in mobile keyless entry for a truly ‘smart’ experience,” he said. 

The goal of integrations should be to enhance the overall guest experience and or improve the overall efficiencies of the hotel staff. Photo credit: Salto Systems

Online lock solutions provide a great advantage to guests and hoteliers because such platforms remain connected to the server and can offer an array of real-time benefits, Aznar said. “These include being able to receive alerts for issues such as a guestroom door being left ajar or a keycard that is being used on multiple doors in an attempt to gain access,” he said. “Any keycard suspected of being stolen or used in an unauthorized manner can instantly be deactivated to minimize or even prevent a security threat.”

Many guests go into their stays with the latest technology in their pocket, and hoteliers are playing catch-up in providing a personalized, custom guest experience that can mimic or surpass the smart-home experience, Sbaihat said. Empowering guests via their smartphone to control a host of in-room smart devices creates a highly personalized experience. “Imagine a guest entering their room using a mobile key, then a custom welcome message displays on the TV, lamps turn on automatically, drapes are drawn at night and the thermostat adjusts to the preferred temperature based on the guest profile,” he said. “It’s important to note that the ability for hotels to deliver a custom environment depends entirely on the willingness of guests, often loyalty members, to share their personal preferences.”

Other integrations solutions that are beneficial for guests and hoteliers include property-management systems and point-of-sale systems that help in a variety of areas, such as guest check-in and check-out, managing employees’ work load and providing seamless transactional processes in retail and restaurants, Cline said. “With frictionless check-in, welcoming guestroom controls and seamless guest transactions, guests are finding technology is doing more of what they previously had to do, thus making the entire experience more pleasurable and exceeding their expectations,” he said. 

One of the biggest benefits is the data behind the integrations, according Ginn. “Hoteliers can improve their proactive maintenance [by] knowing what guests’ patterns and behaviors are,” he said. “Also, you can allow guests to schedule housekeeping via the app, improving guest satisfaction and potentially the efficiency of your staff.”