Electronic locks: Ready for mobile

This article is part one of a three-part series on mobile locks.

A number of major hotel chains piloted or adopted mobile key technology last year. Starwood, Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott are or will be allowing guests to unlock their rooms via a smartphone app. But what does that mean for individual hoteliers? How did they prepare for the incoming mobile lock invasion?

Jose Garcia, director of hospitality IT for the Howard Hughes Corporation, which owns the Woodlands Resort and Conference Center in The Woodlands, Texas, said the first step was to vet the different technology from several mobile access lock companies to determine which one was the best fit.
“Our best option was Kaba, since they already had the security features we wanted built into their system, which provided a smooth transition,” Garcia said.
Kaba mobile locks use a cloud-based mobile-access system and Bluetooth Low Energy, which provided an easy-to-complete upgrade for the Woodlands Resort & Conference Center, located near Houston. “We were already using [radio frequency identification] locks at our property; adding the BLE module was a simple process,” Garcia said.
Marco Nussbaum, CEO and co-founder of Germany-based prizeotel hotels, had a different approach when upgrading to mobile-ready locks. “We basically got all the partners, including Assa Abloy Hospitality, and components together ourselves,” Nussbaum said. “We programmed the app ourselves. It took us quite a while but we managed to be the first ones in Germany.”
Nussbaum said prizeotel only had to install the BLE reader at the door locks to enable mobile entry, making the whole process relatively smooth.

On a larger brand-wide scale, Hilton Worldwide introduced Digital Key last September. HHonors members can use their smartphones as their room key to enter more than 170,000 rooms at 250 U.S. properties within the Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts and Canopy by Hilton brands.  Seven years ago, Hilton made a $500-million investment as a private company to overhaul its IT infrastructure, said Dana Shefsky, director of digital product innovation at Hilton Worldwide. That investment made Hilton’s infrastructure compatible for mobile, setting the transition to Digital Key.
“We developed a proprietary technology that can be adapted to the vast majority of existing lock systems,” Shefsky said. “In cases where the technology couldn’t be adapted to existing locks, we worked with our owners and operators on a plan to upgrade to new, compatible lock systems.”

Steve Slishman, director of engineering for the Hilton Boston Downtown, said his hotel is going live with Digital Key and deskless check-in next month. His hotel had to make just a few slight alternations to the existing locks by Salto. “It’s all natural extension of where the seasoned traveler is heading—it makes our guests happy to have this technology,” he said.

Starwood already offers this service in a limited number of hotels and Hilton also has plans to add the ability to its rooms. Marriott is testing it in its Baltimore Waterfront Marriott hotel today, and plans to test it in 20 more properties for about six months beginning in the fourth quarter of this year.