Hilton, Marriott growing number of hotels with keyless entry

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As more guests become comfortable with the idea of using a smartphone as a room key, the two largest U.S. hotel operators are slated to more than triple the number of properties that offer keyless entry via mobile devices.

By the end of the year, Hilton Worldwide will have widened its number of keyless-entry hotels throughout the U.S., Canada and Singapore to 700, up from 91 at the beginning of the year. Marriott International has 204 hotels that offer keyless entry.

Both companies are poised to expand that inventory substantially next year. Hilton, which launched its Digital Key initiative for HHonors loyalty-club members in August 2015, will have 2,500 hotels with keyless-entry rooms by the end of 2017, according to Dana Shefsky, director of digital product innovation at Hilton.

All but 24 of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts properties that Marriott acquired in September employ keyless entry.

Both companies report that guests have been satisfied with the feature, which involves the hotel sending the guest a special code on its loyalty-program app. The guest can then unlock his or her hotel-room door by holding the mobile device a few inches away from the lock.

"For us, the most critical factor is making sure that it works every time the guest uses it and that it meets a variety of use cases, such as family travel where multiple keys are required or elevators or fitness facilities that require a key activation," said George Corbin, Marriott's senior vice president of digital.

"Guest feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," Shefsky said.

More importantly, expanding the feature to more hotels could enable Hilton and Marriott to boost the percentage of their direct bookings and cut distribution costs because the feature is deployed by the hotel company.

The additional point of contact also provides the hotel with more information about its most frequent guests, enabling the potential for customized service or an upsell, said Robert Cole, Phocuswright's senior research analyst for lodging and leisure travel.

"The hotels have smartly used this as a wedge point between themselves and online travel agencies," Cole said. "The hoteliers want to get that relationship into the apps so that they can merchandise and engage."

That's not to say OTAs aren't working on offering a similar feature for their hotel-room shoppers. Expedia's Hotels.com division is working with Sweden-based Zaplox at developing a keyless-entry feature on its mobile-booking app, and it is in talks with "several lodging suppliers" for potential deployment, Hotels.com spokeswoman Taylor Cole said.

Granted, hotel companies such as Hilton and Marriott require buy-in from the property owners to pay to retrofit door locks to accommodate the system. Neither Marriott nor Hilton disclosed the typical per-room cost of the improvement, though Hilton's Shefsky called it "a minor investment."

Additionally, like all new technologies, the hotel companies and property owners run the risk of committing to a keyless-entry technology that may be outdated within a few years, necessitating further capital improvements.

Still, with keyless entry providing the guest the advantage of not needing to stop in the lobby and engage in the check-in process before going to their room, such a feature will likely be more the rule than the exception at any upscale property in either the full-service or select-service sector within a few years. "It's going to wind up being the norm," Cole predicted.

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