Mobile devices: Jack of all trades

This article is part one of a four-part series on mobile devices. Look to upcoming newsletters for the rest of the series.

Mobile devices have opened a gateway for hotels to directly connect with guests. Mobile devices also have allowed hotel guests to interact with a hotel in exactly the way they desire. Increasingly, guests want to interact with a hotel before, during and after their stays.

Mobile key capability is one aspect gaining a lot of attention. Most major hotel chains are making a play in some way in keyless entry, said Jennie Blumenthal, entertainment, media and communication strategy director with PwC U.S. “Everyone has jumped in the pool,” she said. Moving forward, Blumenthal believes there will be more adoption among hotels because many are making sure they have the appropriate information architecture upgrades to support the back end of mobile key adoption.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide has been a frontrunner in the mobile key arena. SPG Keyless is implemented at 95 percent of Aloft, Element and W Hotels around the world with more coming online in the coming weeks, said Julie Atkinson, SVP of digital for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. “With SPG Keyless, we have fundamentally changed the age-old process of check-in,” she said. To date, 190,000 loyalty-program members have registered for SPG Keyless.
Hilton Worldwide will offer digital key access at all Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, and Canopy by Hilton properties in the U.S. “We’ve seen strong adoption of our digital check-in with room-selection feature—1 million HHonors members used the service within the first four months, and 90 percent said they were ‘likely’ or ‘extremely likely’ to do so again,” said Dana Shefsky, director of digital product innovation at Hilton Worldwide.

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With any new technology, digital key access requires adaption of front-office procedures, such as physically handing over the hotel room key upon check-in, to the digital space. “It’s a novel concept for many, and comes with a learning curve—on the hotel guest and employee side,“ Shefsky said.
Douglas Rice, executive vice president and CEO of Hotel Technology Next Generation, said there is a division in the industry about whether mobile or digital key technology is really a good thing. “If you ask customers, they want it. But if you take them through the reality of how it would work, it becomes a lot less interesting,” he said. There are practical issues such as a dead phone battery or forgetting to have Bluetooth turned on, which will create guest headaches.

But the biggest issue, Rice believes, is the cost of deployment—it is expensive to modify every door lock in every hotel in every brand. “People will see it as a solution—others will see it as a solution with a problem,” he said. “It’s a mystery on how it will come out.”