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Smart Guestroom Locks Becoming Standard


Locking and security technology can often seem — fittingly — like a revolving door. Just when a particular advancement seems poised to be the next big thing, some other development springboards onto the scene rendering the former antiquated. This is not relegated just to hospitality technology; many a modern convenience has fallen prey to the allure of a later and greater discovery.

Hung Luk is COO for the privately-held real estate and hotel management firm LAM Group (; Luk likens the demise of magstripe key cards to the evolution that rendered 8-tracks and cassettes extinct. “We want to get the best technology, but to install the latest technology you have to do a cost/benefit analysis,” he explains. “Since RFID has become more mainstream, the cost has come down.  I wouldn’t even consider putting in a magstripe system anymore.” That sentiment seems to be the prevailing consensus among hoteliers: magstripe is over, RFID is here to stay.

For Luk, who rolled out the VingCard ( system at the new-build Aloft ( in Brooklyn, it was a matter of finding the newest technology that would not only improve the way he could serve guests but also monitor everything going on inside the hotel.  “The system gives me the ability to proactively monitor activity in room — for instance who is going in and out — and if they are authorized people,” he explains. “In an RFID, web-based environment, we can monitor without having to interrogate locks manually.”

The Hilton Concord ( was undergoing a total renovation, so the decision to upgrade its existing locks was an easy one. Matt Hohenstreet, director of sales & marketing, admits that the original key cards were very dated to the point where finding replacement parts was difficult. “We chose the Kaba Saflok ( RFID series of locks due to the current RFID trends,” he notes. “For example, we had recently implemented a brand new parking gate structure that are RFID as well, and interfaces with the HiltonOnQ system with the locks. The RFID key that a guest gets at check-in operates their room and the gates in the parking lot. It’s also paperless and eliminates parking tickets.”

Hohenstreet credits the rollout with labor savings of about 60 to 90 minutes a day, as now employees are not going between rooms helping people with old magstripe keys that didn’t work. Plus, in the event of a lock failure, staff can open the door remotely and reprogram doors.

One of the often-touted benefits of RFID keys is that they don’t get deactivated when placed next to a mobile phone in a guest’s pocket. “RFID is a more solid technology,” agrees Douglas C. Rice, executive vice president & CEO of Hotel Technology Next Generation (, but he admits that there are even more advancements that can be made. “I think the more interesting technology is when the lock itself can be made intelligent or semi-intelligent. Then, suspicious activity can be reported back to the main server, and can be used to redirect CCTV cameras to record it, or to dispatch security staff. The key technologies, whether magstripe, RFID, NFC, or acoustic, generally can’t accomplish this, but a capable lock can.”

A matter of security
When the Mandarin Oriental Miami ( upgraded to  the InvoTech Security System (, the property scored 98.8 points out of 100 on an independent “Safe and Sound” security audit. Nelson Ballester, director of safety and security, touts the ability to block and bypass any key or access in the blink of an eye as one of the top functionalities in security and locking. “The possibility of recording every single activity in the lock — the lock being accessed by a key, a forced entry, a door manually opened and how long it stayed open, a local or system failure and the date and time of the incident — these are all important features to have in a system,” he asserts.

InvoTech tracks all of the Mandarin Oriental’s master keys to ensure they are used only by authorized employees. “Tighter security comes from our knowledge of exactly which keys are checked out every hour of every day,” said Ballester. “Before InvoTech we had a manual system that was less precise and required staff administration.”

Hohenstreet credits the Kaba Saflok rollout with providing a higher level of internal control and says the ability to remotely audit keys has increased security. “There is a functionality called LENS (lock event notification system) which is real-time communication with locks,” he explains. “No person has to be dispatched as to why the lock posted an issue. You can, in real-time, monitor every single door in the building as far as the LENS lock event notification system. For example, I have a management key, but any time my management key is used it records the date and time, down to the second, and which door is being accessed. It’s an additional level of security that the old keys didn’t have.”

Ballester believes that in general the major issues of hospitality security lie in an awareness of the operational differences between proactive versus reactive security. “There is a tendency to let reactivity prevail over proactivity,” Ballester recalls. “Reactivity concentrates on response and recovery (offense already happened, and the damage is done); proactivity focuses on preparedness, prevention, mitigation, and risk management,” he explains.

Also part of a proactive approach, security needs must be continually evaluated. Indeed, HTNG’s Rice doesn’t hear many concerns about the security of products currently offered, but he does hear concerns about the cost of upgrading to newer, more secure systems and that those systems may be found to be insecure at some point in the future. “The reality is that door locks have become a high-technology system that is going to need significant upgrade or full replacement from time to time to maintain security, for sure more frequently than in the days of mechanical keys,” Rice explains. “There’s an expectation among hotels that they are buying a security solution rather than locks that meet today’s security needs.  But unless the locking system contract offers some level of protection against future threats (like Antivirus software does), that’s not what they’re buying.”

Next-generation access
As technology becomes increasingly integrated, next-gen room looks will also allow travelers to bypass the front desk. Hotel Diva ( competes for bookings in San Francisco, where the majority of its guests are business travelers who are not only willing to try the latest tech rollouts, but have started to expect it. Appealing to that crowd was a big factor in the decision to roll out the Mobile Key from OpenWays ( Guests now receive text messages that will provide access to guestrooms. The upgrade will eventually allow guests to completely bypass the front desk once concerns with credit card fraud are eradicated. “One of the eventual benefits of Mobile Key will be that guests will be able to get their ‘key’ prior to arrival,” says Virgil Lopez, general manager of Hotel Diva. “At some point we would like to offer the guest the convenience of not stopping at the desk and being able to go directly to their room.”

In addition to the functionality and innovation of Mobile Key, Lopez touts the additional security the technology provides. “We can easily disengage the keys if there is a security issue,” he explains. “We can very quickly turn off the system to prevent anyone from entering rooms at just the push of a button.”  The OpenWays system also allows operators to interrogate locks, providing a full report of which keys were used and will show the phone number of whichever key opened the door.  

Rice believes the biggest stumbling block in locking technology will be ensuring that the person using a key has the right to do so. Controlling what happens to master keys and ensuring that they aren’t lost or stolen is the hardest aspect to control. “That’s why smart locks are worth investing in,” Rice asserts. “Regardless of the access technology used, they can detect improper usage patterns and help catch the thief.” 
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