Guests' push for mobile key spurs industry adoption

The pandemic has transformed what guests want when dealing with a hotel: They desire enhanced safety but at the same time they don’t want to sacrifice convenience. This has created increased demand for a contactless, digital environment, boosting the adoption of mobile key capabilities. 

The pandemic has brought mobile key to the forefront for hoteliers due to safety concerns. (Salto Systems )

By Esther Hertzfeld

Mobile key adoption has been on the rise since the technology first gained attention in 2014. Several major companies have made digital key more available throughout their portfolios and educated the consumer on its benefits. This has trickled down to the independents as third-party providers like OpenKey built a solution geared toward this group that did not require having their own loyalty programs, said Jacob Liggett, VP of sales and marketing at OpenKey. 

“COVID did not create the need for contactless check-in and digital key usage,” he said. “It did, however, dramatically speed up the investment into the technology that some hoteliers had slated for 2022 and beyond. Until COVID, you only had Marriott [International], Hilton and some forward-leaning boutique hotels adding digital key at any meaningful rate—since COVID hit you have seen other major brands move this to front of mind as well as the bulk of the independent space.”

Beth Kahwajy, North American vertical business leader, hospitality at Salto Systems, said the pandemic has definitely changed hoteliers’ minds on mobile key. “We’ve had so many conversations with hoteliers over the past year,” she said. “Previously hotels, particularly the higher-end brands, didn’t want to lose that front-desk connection to the customer. But even before COVID, guests have really wanted a mobile app and mobile key.” 

Kahwajy believes the pandemic urgency of mobile key has spurred changes that will remain in the future. “Even if hoteliers aren’t capable of upgrading right now for whatever reason, they are future-proofing by purchasing door locks that have the capability,” she said.  

About four years ago, David Ginn, VP of sales, hospitality North America at dormakaba, saw mobile adoption at about 40 percent of hotels but now that number has risen to about 70 percent, he said. “The pandemic created a much more touchless experience that guests desire,” he said. “Before the pandemic, it was for convenience but now guests really want that touchless experience for safety.” 

Ginn believes that while mobile key is still in the early stages of commonplace adoption, it has helped hoteliers with the staffing issues they are now facing. 

With continued innovations allowing for the seamless integration of new technological solutions, Nicolas Aznar, president of Assa Abloy Global Solutions, believes that the industry’s adoption of mobile key technology has been painless. Most properties today recognize that incorporating flexible and scalable solutions are necessary to meeting guest needs, and industry-leading technological solution providers design solutions to be future-proof. 

“Mobile keys play an integral role in the contactless experience and allow properties to continue providing the seamless experiences guest still expect, so we’ve seen an increase in the adoption of this technology across the industry,” Aznar said. “As the hospitality industry continues to lean into the age of digital transformation, this technology will only continue to be a central feature in providing enhanced cleanliness, streamlined operations and improved safety initiatives for major hotel brands and independent properties around the world.” 

What Hotels Should Consider when Upgrading

Door locks are a hefty investment for hoteliers, so there are some major issues to consider when upgrading. Encryption security is key to protecting guest data, Aznar said. 

“Hotels must look for a lock system that uses the latest [radio frequency] ID technology, and preferably equip a solution that uses smartphone authentication technology to verify a hotel guest’s identity when being used,” he continued. 

Compatibility is another key factor, with many mobile key systems requiring integrations into third-party software. Finally, hotels should consider a provider’s ability to provide a ‘future-proof’ mobile key solution, and whether the mobile key solution can be continually updated to address unpredictable security concerns, Aznar continued. 

Ginn strongly agrees that future-proofing is key for all lock purchases. “Since it’s a 15- to 20-year investment for locks, hoteliers need to invest in some technology now so they can further upgrade when they need to,” he said. 

Hotels big or small have to do their vetting when they are selecting their vendors, Liggett warned. “Pre-COVID, there were four major lock companies and maybe five notable third-party digital key vendors,” he said. “After the industry started making noise about adding contactless services, that number tripled. You now see companies that have been in business for less than a year targeting the smaller hotels.” 

These companies have not invested in infrastructure, staffing and other elements to create a truly safe and secure offering, Liggett said: “Make sure you are selecting the right vendors that will have their clients’ best interest in mind and protect their guests data/privacy.”

Esther Hertzfeld is a contributing editor for Hotel Management magazine. She has been covering technology in the hotel industry industry since 2013. {alertInfo}

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