What to consider when upgrading your locks

With many independent hoteliers looking to upgrade their lock technology, there are many things to consider before undertaking the task. Hotels should consider locks as part of a larger mobile strategy, suggested Todd Person, CEO of OpenKey. The goal should be to create a better room check-in experience for guests. 

“Upgrading the hotel with either a [Bluetooth Low Energy] upgrade module or new locks is an important element in that strategy because the property can now offer a streamlined check-in,” he said. “Upgrading to digital key also creates the opportunity to stop using expensive plastic [radio frequency] ID keycards. Guests appreciate the convenience and security of mobile keys and love the fact that they are helping the environment.”

Hoteliers, especially independent ones, should consider their strategy for guest engagement before upgrading, said David Ginn, dormakaba's VP hospitality sales, North America. “You don’t have to be one of the big three [hotel brands]—small properties need a strategy for mobile key, as well,” he said. 

Is the strategy to derive direct bookings or further engage with guests via the mobile key app? Many independent properties are looking to reduce the line at check-in, Ginn said. “A lot of independent properties are actually looking to reduce check-in lines—even a small adoption rate of 10 to 20 percent benefits everyone,” he continued.  

While the industry increasingly looks for ways to streamline guest access and increase satisfaction, hoteliers should seek to work with a vendor that can provide such abilities without creating new risks to safety. Photo credit: Assa Abloy Global Solutions

To start planning for a lock upgrade, hoteliers should consider the best solution for their needs, including guest experience, installation requirements, security, total cost of ownership and project support, Onity President Fayyad Sbaihat said.

Many hoteliers are upgrading to contactless RFID, which offers a better guest experience than traditional magnetic keycards. “RFID locks and cards are less cumbersome and allow for faster room entry, plus the cards do not demagnetize, which eliminates repeat trips to the front desk,” Sbaihat said. 

In addition to providing improved guest satisfaction, RFID locks have the advantage of working with a variety of access credentials, including key fobs, wristbands, mobile devices and more. In the long term, decreased use of plastic cards can lower properties’ operating costs and help reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating single-use plastic cards.

For lock upgrades, property owners should consider initial capital costs and functionality, as well as long-term operating costs and future functionality such as mobile access. In general, hoteliers can overcome many implementation challenges by ensuring locking systems are an integral part of their mobile strategy and customer loyalty programs. Initially, properties may not be planning to provide mobile access to their guests, but selecting future-proof locks for their projects will help them avoid the disruption of upgrading to mobile key capability down the road.

For any upgrade related to a property’s security integrity, it is always imperative that a hotelier first identify a vendor that is capable of providing the industry’s leading security standards regardless of what enhanced functionality they can offer. While the industry increasingly looks for ways to streamline guest convenience and access, hoteliers should seek to work with a vendor that can provide such abilities without creating new risks to safety, suggested Nicolas Aznar, president, Americas at Assa Abloy Global Solutions.

“With any new feature implemented, they should examine what enhanced security protocols are offered to boost overall guest safety and to prevent the technology from potentially being used by others as a means to circumvent pre-existing security measures,” he said. 

With advances in electronic lock technology taking place at an ever-increasing pace, it is also essential that hoteliers work with a vendor that is able to provide them with seamless and affordable future upgrade options as demographic, industry or budget needs change. 

When upgrading to RFID functionality for example, a hotelier who works with a vendor capable of providing future-proof solutions can simultaneously implement the infrastructure needed to later provide guests with digital key abilities, Aznar continued. Such platforms can simply have their mobile access features activated once the need arises, without having to replace any existing hardware or undergo time-consuming integrations. 

“This ability is especially valuable as hotel brands increasingly pass rules mandating the implementation of mobile access technology at each of their properties,” he said. 

How Mobile Adoption is Progressing

According to a survey from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 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 is definitely an “in” trend among midprice or higher price segments (all at more than 80 percent). Mobile key adoption is on its way to becoming a mainstream feature that hoteliers must implement because it provides guests with the personalized instant service that they are now expecting. 

The cost of replacing locks is the major hurdle holding back even more growth of the use of mobile devices for hotels. Photo credit: OpenKey

“As a result, many hotels from various backgrounds and sizes are now looking to implement the technology, with reputable vendors ensuring that the installation process is as seamless as possible by making their mobile access solutions compatible with an array of pre-existing infrastructure and services,” Aznar said. “This significantly provides hotels with the ability to overcome complex integrations or the risk of creating operational silos where one system is unable to communicate with another, resulting in increased strains on labor and a diminished ability to provide a hassle-free experience.”

“We believe mobile key adoption is accelerating and will continue to rise throughout the industry as hoteliers realize it can help them stay competitive while helping to drive engagement, efficiency and growth,” Sbaihat said. “We have seen that hotel brands who implemented a mobile key solution experienced double-digit growth in loyalty-app bookings and purchased services such as food, amenities, spa services and transportation.”

While independent properties may have more challenges adopting mobile key technology than hotel brands, there are solutions that can provide a mobile guest experience without requiring investment in a large information technology infrastructure, Sbaihat continued. “For hoteliers who wish to offer guests mobile keys but do not want to develop a guest app, there are mobile apps that can be easily customized with a unique hotel logo, property photos and contact information,” he said. “This minimizes costs and reduces the development time and implementation of a mobile key system.”

The cost of replacing locks is the major hurdle holding back even more growth of the use of mobile devices for hotels, according to Person. “It’s not uncommon to see a lock bid in the $400-$500 per door range from major lock companies,” he said. “That’s beyond the capital budget for most hotels.”

But there are lower-cost options to make mobile key attainable for any hotel. “Hotels love the fact that they can add digital key to their mobile strategy without the large capital investment to replace their locks,” Person continued. 

Compatibility with existing amenities, such as a hotel’s guest-facing app, also ensures that guests are able to experience a continuous level of heightened convenience from the moment they arrive to when their hotel stay ends by making multiple services available via one easy-to-access platform, Aznar said.

Overall, hoteliers face the challenge of keeping ahead of guest expectations, including those being pushed by millennials and Gen Z members with respect to mobile technology, Sbaihat said. Connected, tech-savvy customers expect and demand a seamless digital experience. The potential payback for hotels is brand loyalty via increased app use, less demand on front-desk resources for check-in, enhanced guest satisfaction and energy savings through connected-room solutions.

How to Ensure Guests’ Safety and Security

Hotels should consider the following areas to help ensure safety and security for guests, according to the lock experts. 

Many hotels with older locks have exterior access-control panels that no longer work, creating a safety concern for guests and staff. “I’ve even seen an exterior door with a hole in the push bar that you could open with your finger to gain entry—not safe,” Person said. 

Hoteliers should consider what other areas of the facility they are going to secure. All brands require perimeter access control but does the hotel need to limit elevator access control? “What other guest access areas are you controlling?” Ginn asked. “Fitness centers are a common area but hotels can also add electronic locks to storage areas as well to have trackability.” 

Old technologies have limited security—magstripe key card locks have been exposed online by people who have hacked these older locks. Photo credit: dormakaba

Hoteliers should always ask vendors what protocols are in place to ensure that security is enhanced overall and not made potentially vulnerable as a result of a recent upgrade, Aznar said. “With new security threats continuously arising, they should further inquire how an upgrade is able to adapt to potential vulnerabilities as they are discovered,” he continued. “With it being critical to obtain a comprehensive overview over security operations in order to identify and intercept an upcoming threat, hoteliers should also request that a vendor demonstrate how an upgrade can fit into their overall security infrastructure to provide enhanced management efficiency and control.”

Hotels should consider the entry audit trail when upgrading locks. “RFID technology does not provide the same level of detail that digital key does,” Person said. “RFID records when a room was accessed. Digital key records the unique mobile number that accessed the room. This can become a critical factor is cases of theft or intrusion.”

For lock upgrades that include mobile key, hoteliers should look for a system that supplements the security features that already exist in hotel locks, such as access permissions and audit trails. “In addition to the first level of encryption, the best systems provide an additional security layer with a 128-bit [Advanced Encryption Standard] encryption key that is unique to the door lock for which the credential was generated,” Sbaihat said. 

Hoteliers also should ensure vendor solutions are audited by third-party experts on a regular basis, Sbaihat said.