2022 Hotel Visionary Winner: Hyatt Hotels

Hyatt Hotels won its Visionary Award for its revolution of the digital key experience. Find out how the brand and its partners were able to create a product that is as simple to use as a plastic keycard.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor, Hotels
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Room Key in Apple Wallet provides guests a key experience that takes two seconds or less to access the hotel, elevator, garage, gym, club, and the guest's room -- all from a simple wave of an iPhone or Apple Watch.

Listening to guests and making data-driven decisions drives Hyatt’s commercial innovations. By June of 2020, Hyatt Hotels Corp. knew its guests wanted to use a digital key to enter their hotel rooms, both to reduce contact during the pandemic but also to rid the world of extra plastic waste. But digital keys, historically, haven't been simpler or easier to use than a plastic key. The time it takes to unlock a phone, find the hotel's app, launch the app, navigate into the key, then finally hold the key to the door can be upwards of 20-30 seconds. For Hyatt, which prides itself on providing the best guest experience possible, the traditional Bluetooth, in-app digital key experience just wasn’t going to cut it.

“In designing our digital key experience, we weren’t trying to just compete with experience of Bluetooth digital keys – we were also competing against the ease-of-use associated with plastic keys. Plastic keys are fast, easy and effortless. So, we had to find a way to be faster, easier and even more effortless,” said Benjamin Weiss, Vice President, Digital Product Management, Hyatt Hotels Corporation.

So, it did.

Hyatt and Apple teamed up during the very early days of the global pandemic to build “the best hotel key experience in the world.” However, this was not just a simple case of integrating with each other’s existing technology – new technology needed to be developed to bring this experience to life. Hyatt had a vision for how it wanted its room keys to operate and brought that vision to Apple, and, together, they created  a joint vision that would propel the industry forward.

Truly a Team Effort

“Once we were both fully committed to this work, we organized teams that met almost daily to create the Room Key in Apple Wallet experience,” Weiss noted. “These daily meetings included members from Apple, Hyatt and ASSA ABLOY.”

While Apple owns the underlying iOS platform and hardware used to transmit an encrypted key via NFC to Hyatt’s guest room door locks, it helped bring new innovations to the table. For example, it found a way to store mobile keys in iPhone and Apple Watch's secure enclave for added security, and power reserve, which gives guests the ability to use their key for up to 6 hours, even after the phone's battery has depleted.

“This is a really important innovation because many guests are nervous to use digital keys as they fear they’ll be locked out of their rooms if their phone or watch dies,” Weiss explains. “By solving this issue, we’ve created a significantly better guest experience.”

It was also incredibly important to have Assa Abloy be a part of these daily conversations because its locks are used in nearly half of all Hyatt hotels. Additionally, they provide the lock server application (Vostio) that manages the creation of encrypted keys and the overall security of the keys in use at the hotel. So, Hyatt worked closely with Assa Abloy in the development of the cloud-based Vostio platform, ensuring it had the right APIs and architecture to support Room Key in Apple Wallet.

“Hyatt has worked with Assa Abloy for decades, and we have immense trust in their team, especially after working side by side with their talented engineering team daily for more than a year in this effort,” Weiss adds.

Hyatt and Apple teamed up during the very early days of the global pandemic to build “the best hotel key experience in the world.”

As the brand continued to work on the design of this technology, it quickly realized that the key had to always be up-to-date in real-time.

“If a guest is moved from room 1401 to 2206, that key must be proactively updated and all the guest should see is a notification on her phone that it's ready for her to use,” Weiss explains. “We also designed the experience so that guests could provision their digital key right after they make their reservation, not after check-in, so that the guest has less to think about and less to do when they're on vacation.”

But managing that key months ahead, and in all these real-time situations, required Hyatt to stream all events from its PMS systems into a Kafka event stream. To do that, Hyatt worked closely with HAPI and used its technology to help get those events out of the PMS and into the event stream, where millions of events are flowing in real-time, and unlocking all kinds of new use cases for guest communications, analytics, and more.

“Hyatt has now been working with HAPI for a little over a year, and we find their technology to be highly reliable, and innovative within the hospitality space, where the PMS is too often a black box during the guest’s stay,” Weiss says.

And, of course, Hyatt itself had a very large role to play in the creation of these digital keys. To begin with, Hyatt manages the reservation and secure guest information. Hyatt developed the World of Hyatt native iOS app that is used to manage reservations and initially provision a key into Apple's Wallet app. And Hyatt's back-end is responsible for communicating with Assa Abloy’s Vostio platform to signal when to create a new encrypted key, and how to route that key to the correct guest and all of her devices (including iPhone and Apple Watch).

Hyatt hosts most of its hotels' PMSes in Microsoft Azure (cloud), and this unique setup was instrumental in developing the real-time capabilities needed for managing offline keys in Room Key in Apple Wallet. Additionally, Hyatt's efforts to develop a Kafka-powered global event stream that includes all live PMS change events was essential, and is now a valuable foundational technology that will help propel Hyatt forward with even more real-time capability than ever before.

Hyatt's Product Management, Design, and Research teams were instrumental in bringing Room Key in Apple Wallet to life - delivering the vision, the end user experience, making a simple and intuitive experience that "just works" for guests. This involved extensive data analysis, user testing with real people, and more.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is that we were able to get all of our partners together to make this vision a reality,” Weiss says. “The simpler a digital experience looks, the harder it was to build it. What we created looks and functions incredibly simply and that’s because of all the team’s hard work that went into it.”

The Result

Room Key in Apple Wallet was announced in June 2021 and launched later that year, providing guests a key experience that takes two seconds or less to access the hotel, elevator, garage, gym, club, and the guest's room -- all from a simple wave of an iPhone or Apple Watch.

Since launch, Room Key in Apple Wallet has been rolled out to more than 85 properties across the U.S. the brand is moving aggressively to expand that number every month, including expanding to international properties as well.

Perhaps most importantly, in hotels where Hyatt has activated Room Key in Apple Wallet, the brand has witnessed 4X the improvement in digital key engagement, and guest net promoter scores for those who use the technology are measurably higher than those staying at the hotel who didn't use this experience.