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So Long, Swipecards

Your hotel room key just got smarter

By Jacqueline Kovacs

The last thing your road warriors want to do after a long day of meetings is wait in line for their hotel key. Thanks to smartphone-based keys, some major hotel chains are helping them jump the queue.

At Starwood Hotels & Resorts, for example, guests can take advantage of smartphone keys by downloading the chain’s SPG app and using it to check in and then receive their smart key by email. “Then upon property arrival, they can unlock their door with a simple tap of their smartphone,” explains Dan Young, public relations manager for Starwood. It’s proving to be popular with tech-savvy guests: so far, nearly 260,000 SPG members from 130 countries have registered for SPG Keyless since its November 2014 launch.

What makes the smart key option so popular? “It alleviates one of the most common pain points identified by travellers—waiting in the hotel check-in line,” says Young. Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada, agrees. “With some of the larger hotels during busy times, like conventions, you can be waiting in line for up to an hour,” says Pollard. “This is a time saver.”

Safe passage
But does that convenience come with a security risk? Young says that Starwood created its own software platform with its lock partner, rather than using something ready-made. “Mobile keys are sent to guests' phones using encryption and cryptographic functions to ensure security,” says Young. For extra security, room numbers are only displayed after guests unlock their phones, log into the app and click to view. Still, Young advises, guests should only share their room information with trusted friends and use a passcode to lock their smartphones. If you’re looking to take advantage of smart key services, check that your hotel uses encryption programming to ensure your privacy.

Both Pollard and Young expect to see smartphone-key use grow rapidly, especially with guests who prefer to use their mobile phones whenever possible. “We’re always trying to stay on top of technology to benefit our guests,” says Pollard. “I see this as an evolutionary process.”

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