Hotel technology that puts more control into guests’ hands is on the rise as travelers seek out greater convenience and hoteliers invest in ways to streamline operations. The last two years have accelerated the adoption of tech solutions that fit this bill, particularly those that reduce contact between guests and hotel staff, such as digital check-in and mobile key-based room entry, and many hotel brands have made the latter technology a requirement for adoption.
Darien Long, vice president of Sales, Hospitality, dormakaba Americas, notes that the hotel industry has traditionally been cautious when adopting new technology. “Prior to the pandemic, hotels were investing in technology to ‘future proof’ themselves, but because of the pandemic, hotels were forced to pivot their operating philosophies to keep their doors open,” Long explains. “Technology adoption in the industry accelerated. There is now an expectation by guests that hotels of all sizes, classes, and brands will provide a mobile experience.” As a result, Long says hoteliers’ mindsets have shifted: “The envelope continues to be pushed to the next big idea. It’s no longer about future-proofing for the long term. It’s about investing with partners who have innovative product strategies to keep hotels agile and continuously delivering on the expectations of the ever-changing guest experience.”
Developing a mobile strategy is no longer a competitive advantage; it’s now a requirement for lodging businesses, says Ben Brydges, senior vice president, Lodging Systems, dormakaba. “Innovation within mobile is changing at such a rapid pace that it will be harder for properties without a mobile strategy in place to keep up.”
Digitalizing the Guest Experience
Nicolás Aznar, president, Americas, ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions, believes that access control technology, in particular, will play a central role in moving the industry towards further digitalization. “With guests demanding that hotels provide enhanced convenience by offering ready access to services and offerings via mobile devices, a digitalized check-in and room entry experience serves as the first step in meeting this growing trend from the moment a guest arrives.”
Digital key technologies cater to guest demands for convenience by providing a mobile-based alternative to lines at the front desk. And by freeing up front-desk staff, hotel teams can focus on providing high-quality service in other areas. Aznar notes that the value this technology delivers will ensure that “mobile key solutions continue to enjoy high adoption rates for many more years to come” and will evolve to keep up with both guest expectations and to meet hoteliers’ business needs. “With contactless service still representing a leading guest expectation, digital check-in and mobile key-based room entry continue to represent a highly-sought out technology by hoteliers across the industry. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many hotel brands have made the adoption of digital key platforms a requirement for each of their locations in order to minimize risks to guests while boosting their sense of trust in a hotel’s ability to provide a safe environment.”
A variety of deployment options for digital key services are available on the market today, Aznar notes, including standalone features, integrations with existing property apps, and third-party integrations for hotels that don’t have an existing guest-facing app but are looking to establish one. “This advantage has become especially important as hoteliers look to provide their guests with access to an array of contactless-compatible services from a single and easy-to-access location,” Aznar explains. “With increasing numbers of guests seeking even greater convenience and hassle-free service, more advanced platforms can now also provide guests with the ability to store and use mobile keys on digital wallets located on their personal device. This notably allows guests to sidestep navigating an unfamiliar hotel app that could cause frustration when attempting to gain contactless room entry.”
Hoteliers recognize that today’s guests expect the convenience of digitalization to be present at every step of their journey, so it has become increasingly essential for access control solutions to be able to integrate with third-party technologies to ensure a seamless end-to-end experience, Aznar says. “More advanced security solutions can, for example, integrate with a property’s in-room smart amenities such as thermostats or lighting in order to provide guests with the heightened convenience of controlling such platforms via the same mobile app they use to unlock the guest-room door. As more guest-facing amenities and services go online, the possibilities to integrate with a hotel’s access control solutions represent almost limitless potential in providing guests with a safer, more enjoyable, and personalized experience.”
Tech providers are currently working with hotel partners to “find the crossroad of secure access and convenient access,” Long says. “In the past, it has been difficult to provide convenient access while maintaining the integrity of security. Now, genius-level integration partners are emerging who can help us do both. Utilizing features like near field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth (BLE), hotels will be able to apply many use cases to improve their guest experience strategy.”
Brydges says that while RFID and BLE have limitations, NFC is “closer to seamless access. For example, the user doesn’t have to pull out a phone, bring up an app, click to the next step, click again to the next step, and so on. NFC reduces the barrier to entry, which leads to greater adoption. Best of all, it makes entrance to a room more convenient without sacrificing security. This is not a future state: It’s happening now.”
Integrations will be essential when it comes to connecting the digital guest experience, Brydges adds. “We are currently working with major technology partners to bring guest keys to digital wallets for easier access. In addition, we are exploring other types of access through partners using NFC. We are building new ways to deliver revalidation of staff keys while also delivering valuable data from the lock to the right places and people.”
Another trend emerging in hotel security is AI facial recognition, although Brydges points out that “a number of issues are still in the planning stage as hoteliers merge security, guest convenience, and guest privacy.” Just as guest-facing technology is evolving, the back-end of hotel operations is undergoing a transformation as well. Aznar says that properties are increasingly moving away from legacy solutions and implementing cloud-based access management systems. “With regards to enhancing hotel security, this includes the ability for cloud-based access management systems to receive automatic software updates that protect against newly discovered threats to guest and staff safety.”
The labor-saving potential of cloud-based access management systems is another significant draw, Aznar adds, particularly as hoteliers struggle with staffing shortages. “With over-stretched hotel employees having to multitask more responsibilities, a cloud-based platform importantly eliminates the need for a staff member to be tied to a stationary terminal in order to oversee and manage security access operations. Instead, and by using virtually any device connected to the internet, employees can continue to perform other tasks throughout a property without having to drop what they are doing every time a security access-related need arises.” Aznar adds that maintenance of cloud-based systems can be performed remotely as well, eliminating the need to bring out a technician to service onsite servers.
Access control is indeed a significant investment; mechanical portions of locks can last a decade. However, Brydges notes, “The digital technology embedded in these components will have a shorter lifecycle.” To build in greater flexibility, Brydges recommends taking a modular approach. “By using a modular design, components can be replaced more cost and time efficient as there is usually not a need to fully change out the system.”
Long says hotels of all sizes and classes should consider investing in locks with both BLE and NFC to maximize their return on investment. “In the past, locks were viewed as a necessary cost and often a capital expense. They weren’t considered essential to a positive guest experience. Today, access control expenses are an operational expense and guest access is viewed as an important measure of the guest experience,” Long notes.
As advancements in technology accelerate, Aznar points out that any solution hoteliers roll out today will likely require regular updates to keep up with evolving guest expectations and business needs. “To sidestep additional hassle and expense, industry professionals should always review a potential platform over its ability to be upgraded without necessitating a complete overhaul of hardware and/or software,” he says. “They should also ask a solution provider questions with regards to the long-term roadmap for their products and how they plan to adapt their solution as technology progresses to ensure its longevity.”