The next time you check in at a hotel, don’t be surprised if the standard keycard is no longer the only way to unlock your temporary home away from home.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts, one of the largest hotel chains in the world, recently announced plans to debut a digital key system at its Aloft hotels in Cupertino, California and the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Arriving guests will be able to bypass the front desk and go straight to their rooms using digital keys that are sent to their smartphones or tablets via an app. If this two-location test run goes well, Starwood says it could implement the digital key feature in all of its hotels by next year.
This digital key initiative is far from Starwood’s first foray into the world of technology.
Starwood is recognized globally as a leader in hospitality technology and took five of the top 10 spots in the 2013 L2 Digital IQ Index: Hotels, which measures the digital competence of 57 hotel brands around the world on more than 675 data points.
The company was the first in the industry to offer FaceTime customer service and to incorporate state-aware design in its iPhone app, which sends hotel guests personalized content like directions, local weather forecasts, and dining recommendations based on where they’re staying. Starwood was also the first to let guests contribute unedited ratings and reviews directly on its hotel websites.
Other past tech endeavors by Starwood include expanded use of renewable energy systems; the creation of an immersive travel app combining rich photography with curated and real-time social content; and Instagram integration on the company’s various websites. Guests at more than 1,150 hotels capture and share an average of 40,000 geo-tagged Instagram photos and videos with fellow travelers each month.
Taking the smart key a step further, Boston luxury hotel Nine Zero gives guests the option of using iris-scan technology to access the hotel’s 19th floor penthouse suite, Cloud Nine. Sharing the suite with friends? Guests traveling together can get scanned for the same room during the same time period.
Other hotels are using technology in more subtle ways. Step into an elevator at the QT Sydney Hotel with a group of people and the music will switch from quiet ballads to a party anthem. These lifts have been equipped with heat sensors that can detect how many people are currently along for the ride, and like a virtual DJ, the elevator caters the music to the audience. You and your friends may enjoy crowd pleasers such as Prince’s “1999” or MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” while single riders are serenaded by Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself.”
Meanwhile, Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel proved its claim to be fully committed to technology with the introduction of PayTouch, a cash-free payment system that allows guests to pay for goods and services everywhere in the venue using just their fingerprints.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Starwood’s CEO Frits van Paasschen said he believes the company’s digital key system “will become the new standard for how people will want to enter a hotel.”
Not everyone is convinced that all this technology will be well received by the hospitality industry — or its guests. After all, such a major aspect of it is, well, the hospitality — that personal relationship between the host and the guest.
These upgrades can also be costly. Nine Zero’s LG Technology-created iris scans run about $1,000 per room, for example, and not all hotels are eager to embrace technology for technology’s sake.
For example, the winner of the 2012 Eco Extreme Award, Manicou River Eco Resort in Dominica, boasts no air conditioning, swimming pools, or electricity.
Other hotels even offer “unplugging” packages. The Hotel Monaco in Chicago has a “tranquility suite” and a “Black Out Digital Detox” package, while the Echo Valley Ranch & Spa in British Columbia, Canada hosts a “Digital Detox for Technology Addiction” weekend during which the ranch switches off its satellite connection for three days.
In fact, so many hotels and resorts pride themselves on their low-tech amenities that the 2012 World Travel Market Global Trends Report listed “digital detox” as a major trend to impact the hospitality industry.
While some hotels and resorts cater to guests looking to unplug, others like Starwood continue to push technological boundaries within the hospitality industry because they know it’s still a priority to many travelers.
A recent hospitality trends poll by SmartBrief stated that 99% of guests travel with at least one device and concluded that “hotel technology no longer is simply a perk; it’s a necessity for hotel guests.”
Ultimately, whether you’re hoping to use your vacation to test out the latest tech or to unplug from the world for a while, your perfect hotel is waiting for you to check in.