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Unlocking Service & Satisfaction Potential

Hoteliers focus a great deal of attention on what is beyond the guestroom door. Roughly 17% of 2014 technology budgets was earmarked for in-room technologies, according to Hospitality Technology’s 2014 Lodging Technology Study. From televisions to controls and connectivity, in-room amenities are often where operators look to allocate budget dollars on refurbishing and updating. As locking technologies have advanced, however, many hoteliers are realizing the potential that lies at the door itself. Suddenly the guestroom door – and more specifically the lock – is a focal point for properties that want to appeal to the next generation of guests while improving and streamlining service.

Mobile keys unlock competitive advantage
According to research by independent digital customer experience agency, Magnani Caruso Dutton (, 64% of travelers would like to use their mobile device as a room key. This number rises to 71% for business travelers. Hilton Worldwide ( recently announced it will enable guests to check into rooms and unlock doors using mobile devices. Hilton says it will offer digital check-in and room selection at 11 of its brands, across 4,000 properties. The service will be available to Hilton HHonors members in more than 80 countries.

Preparing for the mobile key trend, however, is not merely a concern for large hotel chains. Commune Hotels (, an international boutique hotel management company, is investing heavily in an online RFID-enabled locking system. Mike Blake, CIO of Commune Hotels, credits providing guests with options to do things on their own terms as a major reason for the rollout.  If Commune guests want to use the hotel’s mobile app to go right to the guest room, they are able to do so. “Some still like going to the front desk, but these are just some of the things hoteliers can add to their arsenal to keep guests happy,” he notes.

The current install base includes 34 unique hotels with 12 more in development, a mix of both VingCard ( and Saflok ( locks as they are compatible with a majority of operating technologies like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Near-Field Communication (NFC). “Having that additional antennae in the locks is ideal,” Blake says. “Any system will work with them.”

Since a lot of momentum is also driven by the mobile capabilities of the phones themselves, it opens up compatibility issues. Android has NFC capabilities, which is popular in Asia, while the iPhone and BLE is prominent in the U.S. Blake believes this is why so many operators were in “wait-and-see” mode with mobile locking solutions. Compatibility ultimately led to Commune’s selection of Saflock as a partner. “No matter what becomes the true industry standard, we can easily align by changing the antennae and circuit board,” Blake explains.

Bluetooth technology is becoming a bigger player in the locking space and vendors are realigning initiatives to meet that trend. During the recent HITEC in June, the locking space saw several new rollouts focused on BLE. Unikey ( unveiled a keyless entry system that integrates with RFID locks from MIWA. A background mobile application and lock hardware electronics enable an electronic key on a compatible smartphone to control access to the hotel locks using Bluetooth technology. Hotels will be able to integrate this functionality into their own apps and property management systems. OpenWays ( introduced BlueWays and BlueWays+ with Bluetooth 4.0. This Bluetooth-enabled mobile key can upgrade existing hotel locks. The BlueWays family of solutions leverages short-range mobile technologies to enable travelers to bypass traditional hotel check-in/-out processes and proceed straight to their rooms upon arrival. Kaba ( has added to its offerings with a secure cloud-based access system with a Bluetooth Low Energy-enabled mobile key.

Beyond security, unlocking data
Personality Hotels ( is one of the first hotel companies on the West Coast to enable mobile check-ins for guests, according to David Chin, chief operating officer, Personality Hotels. “Not only can guests use mobile phones to open doors, it allows us to gain marketing insights and a competitive advantage,” Chin explains. “Instead of collecting e-mails, we get phone numbers.”

Personality Hotels has rolled out the Mobile Key by OpenWays which requires guests to provide their phone number in order to download the app. “From a service standpoint it’s great; guests don’t have to carry a key around or worry about it being de-magnetized,” said Chin. “From a guest standpoint, you can pinpoint different events taking place at hotels and offer access to information. Now we can even use the technology to send special marketing messages.”
While the technology is still new, Chin believes it will eventually catch on once travelers become accustomed to the new functionality. “It all comes down to trust,” said Chin. “If I download this app how much of my privacy am I giving away?”

Online lock systems mean hoteliers need to have constant communication with the lock. Blake believes that in many ways, locks have become more about being information conduits than security mechanisms. A lot of RFID locks capture the signal of the key. In theory, the RFID signal could be captured by someone else, but Commune has devised a protective sleeve for guest cards to avoid this potential safety concern.

In the process of renovating several of its hotels, Sonesta Collection ( took the opportunity to streamline its lock system. Under its prior system, Sonesta retained multiple lock brands but will soon rely solely on Kaba Saflock RFID-enabled locks with MIFARE technology.
RFID-enabled locks also mean Sonesta is no longer tied to mag stripe cards, which helps to do away with issues of guests’ cards becoming demagnetized and no longer functioning.  Rowe said RFID is much more expensive than the standard mag lock, but the ultimate cost of not using RFID could be greater in terms of service as RFID chips help operators to avoid magnetization issues, use fewer keys and make it easier to bring in other systems such as point of sale and parking.  

Sonesta is also using Inncom Energy Management ( in nearly all of its 25 properties. As soon as the guest places their RFID card over the lock, a motion sensor goes off in the room. If the motion sensor detects movement over a period of 10 minutes, it will assume the room is occupied. At that point it becomes less about energy management and more about comfort management for the guest, according to Preston Rowe, business & hospitality systems architect, Reit Management & Research LLC, for Sonesta Collection.

“There’s real value to having our locks aligned with energy management. From an operational standpoint, it allows us to know if a door is left open and we can send security to check it out,” he says. “If a guest checks into a room that has two doubles instead of a king, it can be easily adjusted as the key is not tied to a room — it’s tied to a reservation.”
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