Hotel tech experts focused on mobile key security
Hotel tech experts focused on mobile key security
04 APRIL 2018 12:38 PM

There are some biases as to how important mobile key innovations are to hotels and their customers, but tech experts agree that mobile keys and the apps that house them need to be secure. 

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Technology experts in the industry might have differing views on the prominence of mobile key and mobile check-in innovations in hotels, but all agree that maintaining guest privacy while still allowing them to bypass the front desk is of growing importance.

Mark McBeth, president of SkyDog Partners and former tech expert with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, said “everything is hackable,” and with the news of Facebook changing their privacy controls and the rollout of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on 25 May in Europe, protecting customer information is important, and will always be a challenge.

“Starwood, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt are not Facebook or Amazon from a data-mining perspective, but they still have significant amounts of information on … their loyalty customers,” he said. “I’m sure people are reading about this Facebook issue, and they’re thinking about where else have they given up their information.”

Hotels might collect a lot of data on their loyalty members, but those loyalty programs also serve as a way for hotel companies, such as RLH Corporation, to keep their guests safe, said John Edwards, chief information officer at RLHC.

RLHC currently offers mobile key and mobile check-in to loyalty members staying at Hotel RL properties through its app.

“We don’t allow mobile key outside of our app, we don’t allow mobile key outside of our loyalty system, so right now that’s part of the security: knowing who our guests are and greeting our loyalty guests,” Edwards said. “…We are working with both the app software developers as well as the mobile key manufacturers to ensure that all of the encryption and the security requirements are there to provide the best security we can.”

Marriott International has been introducing mobile key and keyless entry to its guests, and Todd Strickler, VP, mobile and digital guest experience, said more than 1,100 hotels will be activated with mobile key and SPG Keyless by the end of the year, adding that guests want more control over their arrival and stay experience.

He said Marriott has a multifaceted approach to ensure mobile key security.

“First, we utilize industry-standard technologies that are used by financial institutions for contactless encryption and security,” Strickler said. “Second, we restrict the use of mobile key to members whose details we are able to validate. Third, we have designed our solutions so that mobile keys cannot be shared with anyone else or ‘skimmed.’ And finally, guests’ devices must be password protected to use mobile key. With all of this security in place, a mobile key is actually safer than traditional (radio frequency identification) or magnetic keys, and we are seeing a faster adoption curve than similar types of innovations like mobile payments.”

Mobile key buzz
The final software codes for mobile check-in with mobile keys for the Hotel RL brand were rolled out in the last app update, Edwards said. He said Hotel RL customers are using mobile key, and RLHC is starting to get requests from some of its other brands for mobile key solutions.

“We’re definitely seeing a lift in consumption from our consumers, so we’re seeing a lot more people start to use it,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot more people start to actually look for it in that brand.”

Hotel RL guests might be catching on to the mobile key trend, but McBeth said he doesn’t see as much excitement around mobile key with new tech innovations, such as voice-activated guestrooms.

“These new technologies and innovations … there’s so many of them so fast,” he said. “…I think as each new innovation comes out, some of these things lose their luster.”

More on mobile apps
Aside from mobile keys and check-in, loyalty apps also serve as a platform for hotels to communicate with guests before, during and after their stay.

RLHC’s current solution allows for guest to text the hotel directly or communicate requests to the hotel directly via the app, Edwards said. He said more guests are using to app for pre-stay to make reservations and requests, and post-stay to retrieve receipts and other requests.

“We’ve definitely gone through some lessons learned in regards to what the common requests are and presenting those in a way so guests can find them easily, but then also allowing our guests to just send us a message,” he said.

Marriott has rebuilt and relaunched its apps and has seen a 50% increase in mobile app bookings and a 40% increase in active app users, Strickler said.

“…Our apps enable guest services that make the front desk available anytime, anywhere—before, during and after the stay,” he said. “Guests can complete mobile check-In, request items to be delivered to their room, chat with the hotel via the app, use their smartphone as their room key (at participating hotels), order room service and other (food and beverage) on-demand—and more. Guest Services features are available across the system and across all of our apps, including the Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and SPG apps.”

He added that Marriott continues to transform itself digitally with the establishment of hotel labs such as Marriott Irvine Spectrum and Charlotte Marriott City Center.

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