Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 71° Partly Cloudy
News >  Business

New hotel room key is your smartphone

A mobile check-in option is offered at the Marriott Marquis Times Square hotel in New York. Marriott International launched the ability to check in through its app at 330 North American hotels last year. By the end of 2014, the program will be live at all 4,000 hotels worldwide. (Associated Press)
A mobile check-in option is offered at the Marriott Marquis Times Square hotel in New York. Marriott International launched the ability to check in through its app at 330 North American hotels last year. By the end of 2014, the program will be live at all 4,000 hotels worldwide. (Associated Press)
Scott Mayerowitz Associated Press

NEW YORK – Hotels don’t want guests to have to linger at the front desk – or even stop by at all.

New programs are helping speed up the check-in process for busy travelers, or in at least one case, letting them go straight to their rooms by using their smartphone to unlock doors.

The innovations are still being tweaked as hotels scramble to catch up to airlines. Fliers today use their phones to check in, select seats and as a boarding pass. Hotels envision a similar relationship, with guests ultimately ordering poolside drinks via an app.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts on Monday became the first chain to let guests unlock doors with their phones. The feature is available at only 10 Aloft, Element and W hotels but will expand to 140 more properties in those brands by the middle of next year.

Hilton Worldwide is the only other hotel chain to publicly acknowledge plans for mobile room keys – which it plans to roll out at the end of 2015 at more than 250 U.S. properties in its Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and Canopy brands.

“Guests want this because it makes their lives simpler,” said Mark Vondrasek, who oversees the loyalty program and digital initiatives for Starwood. “The ability to go right to your room, gives them back time.”

Other hotel companies are finding other ways to streamline the arrival process.

Marriott International launched the ability to check in through its app at 330 North American hotels last year. By the end of this year, the program will be live at all 4,000 hotels worldwide. When a room becomes available, a message is sent to the guest’s phone. Traditional room keys are preprogrammed and waiting at the front desk. A special express line allows guests to bypass crowds, flash their IDs and get keys.

At Hilton, all 4,000 properties worldwide will have a similar check-in by the end of the year. The one added feature: Guests can use maps on the app to select a specific room.

InterContinental Hotels Group is testing express check-in for its elite loyalty program members at 500 hotels, primarily in the U.S.

The services are geared toward road warriors who don’t want to slow down, even for a second. Guests who like personal interaction can still opt for a more leisurely check-in, and hotel companies say the move isn’t about cutting jobs.

“If you’re at the end of a long day, you might want a little less of a chatty experience. But if you’re showing up at a new resort, you may want to know what the pool hours are,” said Brett Cowell, vice president of information technology for Hyatt, which is testing permanent keys for frequent guests at six hotels.

The push isn’t just about avoiding frustrating check-in lines. Hotels are trying to get more travelers comfortable using their mobile apps to interact. In some cases, that means using an iPad to request a wakeup call. But ultimately hotels would like to see people purchasing suite upgrades, spa treatments and room service though their phones and tablets – and at some point wearable devices like smartwatches.

Switching to smartphone room keys won’t be easy. Starwood’s app communicates using a Bluetooth data connection. Each hotel room needs to have a new lock that can communicate with phones.

The top 15 hotel companies have more than 42,000 properties worldwide with a combined 5.2 million rooms, according to travel research firms STR and STR Global. Many hotels have made updates over the past few years, but they remain the minority.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.