Mobile key: It's the new reality for hotels

This article is part one of a three-part series on locks. Look to Thursday's and next Tuesday's technology newsletter for the rest of the series.

The interest in hotel mobile key has peaked, driven by millennials and other technology-loving guests, but adoption is slower than the desire for the innovation. Mobile locks and keyless entry are approaching a critical mass of installations as demand and popularity climb, said Markus Boberg, VP of business development for Assa Abloy Hospitality.

Assa Abloy Hospitality Essence lock

“Percentages show that hotels appear to be slower to adopt these solutions in comparison to the percentage of demand from travelers and hotel guests who express interest in having access to these technologies,” he said. “However, this is really more a situation of how quickly changes and upgrades can be implemented.”

As new technologies are developed and a hotel decides to integrate that technology, the process takes time, Boberg said. “Demands can change as quickly and as freely as the consumers want [them] to, whereas a hotel needs time to implement a new technology that guests are demanding,” he continued. “In this light, adoption is moving along well and more hotels are embracing mobile lock technologies than before.”

The mobile technology used with radio frequency ID electronic locks delivers a more personalized and interactive guest experience—from check-in and informing guests of hotel amenities to securely accessing their room, all via their mobile device, said Joey Yanire, assistant VP of mobile access lodging systems for dormakaba.

“Winning the direct-booking war is a long-term strategy for hotel CEOs,” he said. “Some have already begun pushing their guests toward direct bookings through their loyalty mobile application. Remote check-in with mobile keys will allow guests to go straight to [their] room and improve the hotel’s operational efficiency.”

Bluetooth low energy locks are necessary for mobile keyless entry and that naturally means that new-build hotels are the biggest implementers of mobile key, said Brian Shedd, OpenKey’s VP of sales and marketing. “The global demand for digital locks has swamped the manufacturers to the extent the typical wait time to receive new locks is up to 90 days. Challenges still exist around budgets to fund upgrading locks to BLE, but the desire to do so among hotels worldwide seems to be universal.”

One of the challenges is educating the guest who does not travel frequently, said Matthew Mrowczynski, VP of global hospitality for Salto Systems. “Like all new offerings for guests, it is a matter of ‘will it work or will I be embarrassed if I don’t do it correctly and have to go back down to the front desk?’” he said.

The mobile key service is pushing the hospitality industry to develop new business processes that can positively influence its bottom line. These business processes have to be carefully designed, developed and incrementally implemented without affecting the day-to-day operations, Yanire said.

Despite impressive growth statistics, mobile key still faces both an awareness and comfort challenge among front-desk staff. “

New technology always takes time to enter the mainstream and mobile key is still on the adoption curve, but reviews among users and hotel satisfaction scores prove out that mobile key is the future,” Shedd said. “On average, guests using digital key rate a hotel seven points higher than keycard guests with 84 percent of guests likely to use digital key again. With time and routine and front-desk staff training, the challenge of awareness and adoption will be overcome and the future of digital keyless entry realized.”