Why mobile key is taking over in hotels

Adoption of mobile locks in the hotel marketplace continues to rise unilaterally across all segments, from major brands to the smaller independents. Some of this might be due to timing—most magstripe locks are nearing the end of their useful life and the recurring maintenance issues that arise are causing hotels to seek replacement options, said Brian Shedd, VP of sales and marketing at OpenKey. 

In the tech life cycle, the mobile lock offering has hit early majority, said Barbara Krzywoszanski, senior product manager of systems (hospitality) for dormakaba. “Because the majors have committed to mobile technology, it’s streaming down to the smaller chains and independent hotels,” she said. “I would say it’s at least a consideration for 95 percent of hotels nowadays, whether it’s new or retrofits.”

The hotel industry is embracing mobile access to electronic locks for many reasons. “Mobile applications that allow a guest to directly access a hotel room provide more convenience and result in improved guest satisfaction,” said Michael Cline, Salto Systems' VP of hospitality sales. “In many cases, the guest can skip the check-in line at the hotel’s front desk and go directly to their room.”

For hotel management, mobile access improves efficiency because employees do not have to replace a lost room key, for example, since it resides on the guest’s phone, Cline continued. 

The biggest challenge in replacing hotels locks is the cost and concern over the "future-proof" features of new locks. Photo credit: OpenKey

Overall, hotel companies exploring mobile keys are seeking to drive guest loyalty and direct bookings, plus improve efficiency so staff can spend more time offering premium guest services. “With mobile access gaining traction, we sees opportunities to further enhance the guest experience and make their arrival even more seamless by enabling access to parking garages and elevators,” said Brian Bevins, sales leader at Onity Hospitality.

Although mobile access and digital key and technology is being increasingly adopted, like any relatively new technology, a primary challenge has been to ensure that end users are aware that the functionality is available to them, said Markus Boberg, global president hospitality at Assa Abloy Global Solutions. “This, however, is an issue that can be overcome by focusing on staff training. Equipped with the necessary knowledge and by actively informing guests of the advantages of mobile access, hotel staff can significantly bolster user adoption and ensure that any platform rollout is a success.”

Krzywoszanski agrees that hotels need to consider more than just opening the guestroom door with the mobile key. “The first thing to consider is the engagement of the app to even use mobile key—and the marketing message associated with that app,” she said. “Realistically, guests aren’t going to download one app for one hotel. Hotels need to make the app qualified and really great for the guest—allow them to make hotel reservations, spa appointments, have a call button for the bellboy and allow for concierge help. Help the guest, support the guest and also allow them to get into the guestroom.”
The biggest challenge involved in replacing hotels locks is the cost and concern over the "future-proof" features of new locks, Shedd said. “Hotels want to make sure that the significant investment they’ll be making in upgrading their old hardware will remain viable for the next 10 years, which is a challenge with the pace of new technology,” he continued. “Fortunately, digital lock technology has become very stable and offers a significant security improvement for hotels.”

Other early challenges have included security and compatibility. “When choosing a provider, make sure they have developed a product that includes smartphone authentication technology for verifying a mobile user’s identity via PIN or fingerprint,” Cline said. “It should utilize AES 128-bit and SSL encryption. Instant key updates or key cancellations should also be available in the event the guest no longer should have room access.”

Who is the ideal guest for digital key? 

The ideal guest for digital key is a smartphone user because digital locks require a Bluetooth connection to communicate. Shedd has seen a direct association between business travelers who use mobile boarding passes and digital key; those same business travelers become leisure guests on vacation but their expectations don’t change. “Smartphone usage is nearly universal at this point, which is driving the widespread adoption of digital key that we’re seeing in hotels,” he continued. 

By incorporating a mobile-access platform, a hotel is reaching out to the majority of its users via the very tool they are likely to have with them at all times. Photo credit: Salto Systems

Many technology-savvy consumers now expect self-serve solutions, largely the force behind mobile key technology adoption in the hospitality industry, Bevins said. Depending on how it’s implemented, mobile key technology can be a big time-saver for business travelers who especially appreciate being able to skip the front desk and go directly to their assigned guestroom. “From the hotel brand side, mobile key solutions can help drive guest loyalty and direct bookings, plus improve efficiency so staff can spend more time offering premium guest services,” he added. 

Many platforms allow hotels to issue multiple digital keys for a single room—how many typically is determined by the lock manufacturer, according to Shedd. “With the latest version update of the OpenKey app, hotel guests will now be able to share digital keys among themselves with the hotel being able to monitor the key shares and control them directly if necessary,” he said. 

What’s next in hotel door lock technology?

The future of hotel door electronic lock technology is the ability to improve the guest experience and to make hotel operations more efficient. “Systems in a hotel are interdependent on each other—a guest can’t check in until the room is cleaned, housekeeping can’t clean the room until it knows a guest has checked out,” Cline said. 

Many lock systems can be integrated with hotel loyalty apps or used with a mobile app that can be easily customized with a hotel logo, property photos, and contact information. Photo credit: Onity

Guests need to be able to access more than just a room, be it an elevator to their room, the spa or the parking lot. Hotel room systems like lights and air conditioning should be in use just before and during a guest’s stay. “All of these systems can be managed by an intuitive electronic access control solution and when done properly, both guests and operations benefit,” he continued. 

Technology within the door locks themselves is evolving. “Communication modules make it possible for hotels to improve door-open times when guests use a mobile key, as well as integrate with in-room smart devices such as televisions and thermostats,” Bevins said. “In addition to what’s inside, locks will continue to develop more streamlined aesthetics, especially for high-end properties and resort applications.”

Data analytics also will play a big part of door locks in the future. “We will know more about guests, how to better manage assets and the workforce with predictive analytics,” Krzywoszanski said. “Data analytics will give hotels decision-making points that we never knew were possible.” 

Hoteliers and providers are also realizing the multiple benefits of cloud-based access management technology said Markus Boberg, global president, hospitality at Assa Abloy Global Solutions. A cloud-based security access platform is continuously and seamlessly updated, with the ability to receive regular software updates that address newly discovered threats and vulnerabilities, maximizing security at no additional cost to hoteliers. 

“Cloud-based systems also eliminate the need for expensive and space-consuming on-site servers,” Boberg continued. “This saves significant time and costs for hoteliers, as any system maintenance is performed remotely by the system’s provider.”

The Entrava hotel lock brand has introduced an innovation called “Touch-to-Open” that allows the hotel guest with a digital key on their device to leave it in their purse, pocket or jacket and simply touch the lock to gain entry, Shedd said. The lock senses the biometric touch and automatically reads the mobile key token on the device without the need to hold the phone up to the lock.  

Innovations like that will continue to improve the guest experience at a hotel, and guests in turn will pay it forward with higher social review scores and repeat visitation. “In China, we see more biometric innovation occurring in door lock technology such as fingerprint or iris scanning; however, those features are largely being used in a residential setting at this point in time,” Shedd said.