"These days everything you do is smart, from the way you pay to the way you go places to the way you say hello. And now your travels are smart too.” So begins a promotional video for the latest innovation from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. (NYSE: HOT): a keyless hotel key uploaded to your smartphone.
A Starwood representative told International Business Times in an email Tuesday evening that the company’s vision goes beyond just ditching the hotel key. Starwood hopes to completely redefine the age-old arrival experience.
“Coming soon, travelers can opt-out of traditional check-in completely -- no more lines, visits to the front desk, swiped credit cards or even keys -- and instead use their smart phone to check-in and open their guest room door. A truly keyless check-in allows the first guest interaction with hotel associates to be personal rather than transactional.”
The industry first will give Starwood Preferred Guest members the chance to “check-in,” set their payment method and actually open the door to their hotel room from an SPG app uploaded onto a smartphone. The smartphone will then remain the room key for the duration of the stay.
The company plans to roll out the “virtual room key” in the next three months, though it’s already giving frequent visitors the opportunity to participate in pilot programs.
“The plan is to pilot first in key tech hubs leading with the Aloft Harlem and Aloft Cupertino,” Starwood explained in a statement. “Starwood is approaching this project with a start-up mentality, focusing on getting each aspect of the functionality right before rolling it out more broadly. If all goes well, guests could see this technology rolled out in Alofts and Ws first in 2015.”
Anyone with an iPhone 4S or newer or an Android phone running on Android 4.3 or newer will be able to take advantage of the technology using Bluetooth. Essentially, the Bluetooth connection in the phone links to a sensor on the door that releases the lock with a tap.
If the hotel computer system goes down for any reason, Starwood said the battery-powered lock would still work. If your phone looses its juice, however, you may have to revert to a less virtual hotel key. No word on what happens if your phone is lost or stolen.
Starwood’s in-house digital team in Stamford, Conn., developed the “top secret project” in collaboration with Assa Abloy, a lock manufacturer based in Sweden. Starwood, which owns more than 1,500 hotels in nearly 100 countries, said the keyless key was “the latest in a series of innovations stemming from a multi-year investment” it’s making in digital and mobile technology, including hardware, software and global infrastructure.
Regular keys and the normal check-in experience will still be available at all Starwood hotels for the traditionalists. Yet, the company has made it clear that it values forward thinking over tradition, particularly at its newer Aloft and W hotels, which tend to attract a younger and more tech-savvy clientele.
Will the keyless key become an expensive novelty for hotel owners? Or will it be a true game-changer for an industry that’s lagged behind with innovation? One thing’s for certain: Starwood is inclined to believe the latter.
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...