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Starwood, Hilton overcome challenges to make mobile keys a reality

While hotels have been struggling to leverage mobile keys for years due to a fragmented smartphone industry, varying mobile signal standards and pricey lock system upgrades, Starwood Hotels and Hilton Worldwide are making them a reality with roll outs planned for this year and next. 

Starwood Hotels has launched the mobile technology at its Element, 10 Aloft and W Hotels, with plans for 140 more of its properties to receive mobile keys in 2015. Hilton will be piloting the technology in early 2015, in hopes that guests will have greater control over their stays and experience the utmost convenience enhanced by new technology.

?Travel is inherently mobile and our guests? expectations are changing,? said Chris Holdren, senior vice president of SPG & Digital Innovation for Starwood Hotels, New York, NY. ?Travelers are depending on their devices for more and more as they do in everyday life. SPG Keyless means guests will be able to bypass the front desk where available when they arrive at the hotel, saving them time and letting them arrive on their own terms.?

Enhanced features
Consumers will be able to unlock their hotel rooms with their mobile devices via a Bluetooth connection. This will allow travelers to bypass the concierge desk and head straight to their accommodations, and will aid in eliminating long wait lines and issues with lost or misplaced keys.

Hilton is aiming to elevate the travel experience with a three-phase rollout across the national properties of four brands, beginning with pilot testing at 10 of its U.S. properties, enabling mobile keys at all Conrad Hotels & Resorts in early 2015 and continuing the rollout across Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Canopy by Hilton properties in summer 2015.

?Brands are currently scrambling to Uberize their processes ? take away the steps that are annoying, time consuming, and inefficient ? and move to a more user-friendly experience,? said Joline McGoldrick, Research Director at Millward Brown Digital, Washington, D.C. ?The true significance of the mobile key is that it will allow guests to skip steps such as waiting in line and checking in that are seen by many as inefficient and unnecessary in the era of online booking.?

For Hilton HHonors rewards program members, guests can use the mobile app to access other locations of each property that require a room key for entry, such as fitness centers, elevators and parking facilities. The brand will also be rolling out digital room selection functionality at more than 4,100 properties globally by the end of November.

Marriott International also provides customers at 330 of its properties with the ability to check in via a smartphone app. Once a guest?s room is ready, the user will receive a notification message to their smartphone.

?It?s yet to be determined if mobile key availability will be a greater driver in the selection process than price, location, amenities and ambiance; however, with the mobile key and its large industry presence, Hilton has the opportunity to set an industry standard,? Ms. McGoldrick said.

?Nonetheless, it?s essential that for the broadest reception and favorability of this innovation, the mobile key system must be as error proof as possible with an intuitive and streamlined user experience.?

Starwood strategy
Guests staying at Starwood Hotels will be required to use their smartphone to touch a designated pad on the outside of the room door for it to unlock. This prevents consumers from accidentally unlocking the doors if the smartphones are in their pockets.

Starwood claims that the technology is ideal for tired guests that have been traveling and prefer a less chatty check-in experience. However, check-in at the front desk will still be available for individuals that prefer a personal interaction.

Only one smartphone will be able to be synced to a room at a time, for security purposes. If a second guest is staying the room, he or she will need to ask for a traditional key.

With the multitude of top hospitality brands making the transition to mobile keys, more are likely to follow. While pilot testing will determine reactions from guests, mobile keys appear to be the future for the hotel industry.

?Hotel brands may not necessarily need a mobile key within the next 12 months, but they will need to be prepared for it, particularly as Generation Z (those under 20 and the first mobile-first generation) becomes part of their prospective customer base,? Ms. McGoldrick said.

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York