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09/09/2016

Mobility Holds Key to Next-Gen Room Access

It’s no secret that mobility is becoming a major driver in the hotel industry. HT’s Lodging Technology Study, reveals that mobile solutions dominated technology rollouts for 2016 with half of the top solutions having a mobile component. Mobile key deployments, however, still lag behind guest expectations. While 53% of guests want to be able to use smartphones as mobile keys, according to the 2016 Customer Engagement Technology Study, only 12% of hotels currently offer the technology. HT’s Lodging Technology Study indicates that hotels plan to address guest demands, with 23% of participants implementing mobile guest room locking technology in 2016.
 
Hotels looking to make the investment in upgraded locking technology need to stand out from the competition by tapping the full potential of mobile keys beyond merely enabling smartphones for guestroom access. Here HT identifies ways mobile keys are paying dividends.

Making mobile a hotel differentiator
“We know that many of our guests rely on their smartphones to manage their lives,“ says Dana Shefsky, director of digital product innovation, Hilton (www.hiltonworldwide.com).

Hilton Worldwide launched its Digital Key for Hilton HHonors members in August of 2015, giving guests the ability to select their rooms. The technology, which is now live in 400 hotels, has opened two million doors with guests selecting rooms with digital check-in every 2.5 seconds. Hilton’s Digital Key functionalities were designed by taking guest feedback into consideration and innovating in meaningful ways to enhance the experience and solve common travel pain points.

The Expressway Inn Bismarck (www.expresswayhotel.com) in Bismarck, N.D., implemented ASSA ABLOY Hospitality (www.assaabloyhospitality.com) Mobile Access this past April in a move to “stand out from the pack — to be a pioneer in guest convenience and attract more business,” says Mike Motschenbacher, general manager.

Noting that he is  seeing additional interest in the property from prospective guests, Motschenbacher says that the option to receive and use mobile keys has brought guests to the property. The hotel has seized upon the marketing opportunity and utilizes the mobile access solution as a point of differentiation in the hotel’s print advertising, which includes an invitation to “try the new mobile key technology” there.  

Guests leverage mobile key tech to accomplish other tasks
The Arenaturist-owned Park Plaza Arena Pula (www.parkplaza.com), situated within Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, has upgraded its VingCard Signature RFID and Classic RFID guest room door locks from ASSA ABLOY Hospitality to the vendor’s Hospitality Mobile Access solution. Encrypted mobile keys are delivered directly to guests’ smartphones. Besides using mobile keys to access rooms, guests can harness the solution to order services, including wellness services and room service, as well as to make reservations in the hotel’s restaurants. Based on analytics gleaned from guest profiles, the hotel also employs the technology to send push notifications to guests about special food and beverage promotions and events open to them during their stay. Previous guests can opt in to receive push notifications about last-minute deals.

According to Marko Cukon, marketing manager for Arenaturist, guests’ use of services available through the solution it is on an upswing. Return on investment (ROI) is already being seen in the food and beverage department from the ability to more easily attract guests with dining-related promotions and from making it easier to order room service.

Robert Cole, founder of hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting firm RockCheetah (www.rockcheetah.com), advocates harnessing mobile key technology to communicate with and engage guests, for example, asking them about their room preferences and sending information about discounts and events at the property in advance of and during their stay. Cole cites findings from the J.D. Power 2016 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, which revealed that although only 3% of guests avail themselves of online or mobile check-in, satisfaction is higher among these guests than those who used any other hotel check-in method.

“That percentage could be bumped up significantly if hotels were to do more with the mobile key than just speed customers through the check-in process,” Cole asserts.

Hilton enhanced its room selection feature by integrating with Google Maps APIs to give guests additional context about the surroundings of the hotel before they pick their ideal room, from selecting a room away from the elevator to previewing a room’s view. Other new functionality includes a “Pin My Room” feature, allowing loyalty members to mark favorite rooms in a hotel, and the ability for guests to use a digital key for up to four rooms at a time. In addition, Hilton expanded its use of push notifications with alerts to check-in prior to arrival when their room is ready.

“We trigger notifications at different moments of the guest’s travel journey,” Shefsky says. “For example, upon arrival we may send a push notification reminding the guest of where they can pick up a warm chocolate chip cookie, or letting a guest know that their room has been upgraded.”

Readying for the future & finding ROI
Also meriting consideration are hoteliers’ individual goals in moving to mobile or RFID locking technology. For example, Bill Goeller, director of engineering, Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center (www.gaylordpalms.com), says there is the question of room access technology being used for guest room locks only, to control access to the pool and other amenities, front gates, parking areas, and the like.

“If so, you need to allow lead time for customization, and to get everyone on board with the idea,” he states. “It’s not automatic.”

Shefsky agrees that although mobile keys are a simple feature to understand, the backend takes time to get right.

“One of the biggest obstacles we faced was integrating Digital Key with existing systems on-property, like the elevator and parking gates, so guests could use their smartphone to gain access anywhere traditional keycards are required,” she recalls. “We also wanted to ensure that the feature was safe and secure for each of our guests to use.”

With this in mind, Hilton extensively tested Digital Key during its first few months at select properties to work out any kinks and develop a course of action to move the technology forward.

“The biggest stumbling block is taking screw drivers to locks and updating them for the technology,” Shefsky notes.

Both Goeller and Motschenbacher say they carefully considered any future locking upgrade options before selecting the solutions now installed at their properties. For Goeller, the fact that the Kaba Saflok MT RFID locks from dorma+kaba (www.dorma+kaba.com) installed one year ago on all 1,416 room doors at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, is mobile access iOS- and Android-compatible, as well as cloud-based, was a deciding factor in its deployment. A migration to a mobile platform is highly likely, he notes.

New applications for mobile key technologies are in the pipeline. For example, the Park Plaza Arena Pula is exploring ways to turn mobile keys into a digital assistant that would enhance guests’ experience by providing them with personalized recommendations for dining and sightseeing based on preferences expressed in their guest profiles. PPHE is also considering working with Samsung (www.samsung.com) and Apple (www.apple.com) to develop wearable mobile keys in a watch form factor.

For his part, Motschenbacher chose the ASSA ABLOY Mobile Access solution because of the option to integrate it with its own mobile app, a step he states will be taken at the Expressway Inn Bismarck sometime down the road.

“It’s difficult to really maximize ROI if the solution isn’t future-proof,” he concludes.

Hilton has seen a number of benefits for both guests and operations, the biggest being freeing team members from more transactional tasks and enabling them to focus on guest service.

“Our real-time chat feature also helps our guests better connect with team members, which means guests are coming to us with even more ways we can improve their stay,” Shefsky admits.

Properties are also seeing increased efficiencies as a result of deploying next-gen locking technology. At the Expressway Inn Bismarck, Motschenbacher reports, check-in efficiencies have improved not only because guests are issued their keys ahead of time, but because front desk staff now spends less time re-issuing lost keys.

“Fewer people are coming to the desk with issues about lost keys; you don’t lose a phone as easily as a key card,” he asserts.