Is the Keyless Key the End of Hospitality?

Hotel-key-smartphone

If you own a smartphone, the next time you travel you may not need a key for your hotel room. In fact, you may be able to bypass the registration desk altogether.

This is not a new concept to the ResortsandLodges.com blog.  In a recent post, we discussed the merits of streamlining the check-in process with mobile options or check-in kiosks, which both allow travelers to avoid the waiting game involved with traditional check-in options.

Brandon Ambrosino recently wrote an article for Quartz, a global online news briefing service, discussing how the disappearance of the room key marks the end of hospitality as we know it.

A virtual key is the latest innovation for an industry that prizes efficiency of service.  However, the move is also a departure from what guests really want in a hotel stay: personalization.

Research shows that travelers are looking for a more personalized experience.  The millennial generation is looking for a unique travel experience, and views personalization as a way to build loyalty with a given property.

In a recent Forbes article, Micah Solomon argues that what customers are looking for is humanity and personalization, not just more efficiency.  Such experiences are predicated upon human interaction.

Ambrosino notes that a keyless key is a reversal from this customized interaction and a return to standardized automation.  He also recognizes that the hotel industry has always had to navigate the fine line between these two poles.

A Brief History of Hotel Room Keys

The forms of hotel room keys have varied greatly since the Le Grand Hotel, the world’s first hotel, was constructed in 1862.  At that time, metal keys were the standard and were kept at the front desk on an oversized key ring.  This was a time when keys were not allowed the leave the property.

A lawsuit in the 1970’s placed hotel security under scrutiny while forcing hoteliers to turn to the keycard.  Electronic keycards were created in 1978 and initially sold to Atlanta’s Westin Peachtree Plaza.

Even though keycards were a step toward practical efficiency, guests still had to interact with the hotel staff in order to check-in and pick up their card.  Although these conversations typically brief and predictable, they set the tone for the remainder of the stay.  To this day, hotels like the Ritz in London continue to use metal keys, in part to ensure friendly interaction between hotel guests and staff.

Three Key Points

-Acquiring room keys from a hotel front desk during the check-in process creates an initial contact point between the traveler and the hotel guest.  The advent of keyless keys takes away this potential contact and takes some personalization away from the experience.

-Modern travelers trending away from the traditional hotel experience, and are looking for a unique and personalized experience.  To millennial travelers, personalization equals loyalty.

-It will be important for hoteliers to balance personalization with efficiency to meet guest expectations in the future.

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