It’s often said that technology moves fast, and it does, relatively speaking. But the reality is that change of any kind, technology or otherwise, never occurs as fast as we think it’s going to go. If it did we’d all be dialing up our friends and family on the palms of our hands without the help of an iPhone by now as at least one keynote speaker at HITEC suggested years ago. Right now, it seems the big focus is on Voice Activation, but exactly how and when it is incorporated into the typical everyday hotel experience remains to be seen.
At the risk of showing my age, I can recall when mobile check-in and keyless entry were first discussed as the future of hotel check-in more than a decade ago. For years after that, the following question would regularly come up during panel sessions with various brand leaders: when is keyless entry finally going to become a reality in hospitality? Regardless of which executive you asked and what brand they represented, the answer would invariably be ‘it’s not quite ready yet, but it’s coming.’
Well it seems as though that it’s finally here. In what represents the most significant commitment yet, just in terms of sheer numbers, Hilton announced recently that its Digital Key solution will now be available at more than half of its global portfolio of some 5,000 properties by the end of the year.
Earlier this year, Marriott announced that its version, Mobile Key—which had been available at roughly 25 properties—would be expanded to more than 500 globally. That’s in addition to offering a keyless solution at what had previously been Starwood properties under the Aloft, Element and W brands, which had already made the transition. Meanwhile, Red Lion Hotels Corp. in recent months also updated its Hello Rewards app to add digital key support, among other amenities.
While many of the aforementioned brands, as well a number of others, have been investing in keyless entry and beta testing it for years, the widescale rollouts have been relatively limited. As is often the case, the key to success, (pardon the pun) ultimately lies in the execution. As an example, for a long time the technology was only available on certain types of phones but that is no longer the case.
Now that keyless entry is truly here for many properties, the question becomes how many people will actually be inclined to use it? According to Hilton, its loyalty members have widely adopted the Hilton Honors app’s features and continue to set new records for usage and development, including 30 million digital check-ins, 3 million room key downloads, and more than 13.6 million doors opened. During July, for example, the company reported a door was unlocked with Digital Key every two seconds.
When it comes to keyless entry, the conventional wisdom has been that the younger generation, or the Millennials to be more precise, will not only want it but come to expect it. Perhaps that is the case, but it certainly may appeal to other guests as well. I am a frequent business traveler and I can tell you by the time I get to my destination I am less interested in being welcomed by a front desk agent and more interested in unpacking my bags. And I would venture to say most business travelers are of a similar mind set.
But, of course, it’s not for everybody. There are plenty of guests that don’t mind, and even seek out, that interaction at the front desk. The good thing about this technology offering is guests will ultimately make that decision, at least for now.
It’s certainly conceivable that remote check-in will eventually be like the airlines with kiosks where guests will just be trained to check in on their mobile device and go straight to their room. However, one of the true differentiators of hospitality has always been the people. The industry has clearly figured out the challenges around keyless entry, now the challenge will be how to make it work for everybody.