Travelers staying at select Starwood Hotels and Resorts will soon be able to unlock their hotel rooms with their smartphones.
The Aloft Harlem in New York and Aloft Cupertino in California will be the first to try the new technology, powered by Assa Abloy, a lock company in Sweden. The pilot program will begin within the next 60 days, says Brian McGuinness, senior vice president of Starwood's Specialty Select brands. If it goes well, guests will see the new technology roll out at three Starwood brands, Aloft, Element and W Hotels, by 2015.
"In a world where digital tech is only getting smaller, cheaper, more ubiquitous, we need to see how tech is changing what our guests want -- and keep pace," Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen said during a presentation at the American Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles.
Guests will first check in through their smartphones using Starwood's mobile app. They will then receive a text message with their room number and the virtual key so they can bypass the front desk. The technology operates through Bluetooth on any iPhone 4s or above and the Android 4.3 or newer.
"It fundamentally changes the hotel business," McGuinness says. "It changes the job of the front desk. The front desk becomes the concierge desk."
Other hotel companies have experimented with letting people check in through their mobile phones. For instance, members of Marriott's Rewards program can check in through their mobile phones at 350 of its Marriott Hotels. They then pick up their key at a desk. Marriott will expand that program to 150 more hotels.
At Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts, guests can check in through their smartphones with Anywhere Check In. They then scan in their check-in code at a kiosk to retrieve their keys, bypassing the front desk.
Hilton Worldwide and Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, parent company of Radisson and Country Inns & Suites, are also experimenting with mobile check-in, but not virtual keys yet.
"This is genuine mobile check-in," says Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst with Hudson Crossing. "This is really what travelers want."
Harteveldt says that if the pilot works well, he expects that other hotel companies will have to adopt the technology.
"Hotels will not have a long grace period in which to lag behind," he says. Hotel guests "will be patient up to a certain degree, but they will expect other hotels to match what Starwood has done, if not beat it."
But there are some challenges to adopting the technology. Thorsten Kirschke, president of the Americas for Carlson Rezidor, says adopting virtual keys can be expensive because it can involve changing a hotel's entire lock system. He also says there are unresolved security questions.
"We would not expose our customers if there's a slight concern for their security," he says.
Kirk Kinsell, president of the Americas for InterContinental Hotels Group, parent company of Crowne Plaza, says that mobile check-in has been successful so far, but that there are still people who prefer to interact with the front desk.
"Not everybody wants to pick up a key and go to their room. They want to be greeted," he says.
© 2014 USA TODAY under contract with MarketWatch. All rights reserved.
Posted: 2014-01-31 @ 1:44pm PT
This is *almost* what travelers want. A door that recognize my bluetooth device as a FOB, similar to a keyless car, great! A smartphone app, that I must download through a store, that records and leaks my private information and my whereabout? No thank you.
A well designed system would program the MAC-48 identifier of any bluetooth device (it does not have to be a smartphone) so that the door unlocks in its presence. Any headset or feature phone or other bluetooth device should do.