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As We Forge Ahead into the Mobile World, We're Still Madly in Love With Hotel Keys

September 4, 2014 at 11:39 AM | by | ()

Let he among us who hasn't found an old key in their wallet and smiled cast the first stone.

Now that we're living in a world with electronic wristbands, mobile check-in, and smartphones that act as room keys, an honest question comes to mind: Are we getting closer to the death of the room key as we know it?

Sounds dramatic, but it's not that unrealistic to assume that we'll see our first "keyless" hotel within the next couple years. Environmentally and practically, it might not be the worst of ideas. But let us be the first to say that we would be terribly saddened to check into a hotel and not receive a key.

Sure, some are more elusive than others and tend to disappear easily. And yes, others are blatant advertisements for Domino's. But more often than not, hotel keys are unique mementos of the experiences we have at hotels, many artfully designed and immediately recognizable. A casual hotel goer may not notice one here and there, yet over time, as you see more and more of them, you begin to appreciate the ones that stand out from the crowd.

Shucks, our editor even used some of her favorites to decorate her living room (shown above), a permanent reminder of all the good times - and stays - that she's had. Could those days really be numbered? Will the future look more like the photo above?

Just a little reminder to hotels, and ourselves, that as we forge into this digital age, sometimes the physical nature of things, and the nostalgia that comes along with it, can't be overlooked. The Kindle sure caught on, but something tells us that a screenshot of our hotel key won't be the same.

[Photos: HotelChatter]

Archived Comments:

Keyless Not Happening

Despite what people think, not everyone has a smart phone. According to Google's "Our Mobile Planet" statistics for 2013, only 56.4% of US residents have them. The percentage drops significantly for other countries. Surprises (to me) include Japan at 24.7% and Brazil at 26.3%.

No hotelier is going to voluntarily give up a large number of potential customers by requiring a smart phone to check-in. There's no logic to doing that.

Certainly, some hotels might transition to RFID door locks. Still, they will have to provide a back-up for those without smart phones. Depending on the cost, the hotel may try to bill you if you walk away with that key. Regardless, you will still be able to get some sort of "key" from the hotel when you check in.

Re: Keyless Not Happening

Hmmm... I wonder how those statistics look if you break it down by age group... wouldn't be surprised to see a keyless hotel in the next few years that targeted young people. I think the first keyless hotels will be pretty small to avoid the problem you bring up. Filling 300 rooms with only people that have smartphones might be tough, but filling 15 might not be so bad.

Check Out the Site

Yes, the data can be viewed by age. Check it out: think.withgoogle.com/mobileplanet/en/

But, here are the latest (2013) stats by age group:
~ 18 to 24: 75%
~ 25 to 34: 81%
~ 35 to 44: 62%
~ 45 to 54: 61%
~ 55 plus:   30%

A tiny hotel targeted to a tech-savvy clientele might be possible. Still, you have two problems: 1) What happens when your guest's phone battery dies or your the entire device goes missing? 2) Your hotel gets labeled as "elitist" because the only guests you accept must have an expensive phone (and monthly data plan to use the phone) in order to check in.

Not going keyless at my hotel....

I also have a hunch that AAA and Mobil will not allow keyless check-in with 4 and 5 diamond/star hotel properties in the very near future.  The reason?  Service and security.  You cannot communicate human to human if someone just rushes by the front desk and to their room... keyless hotels will be havens for meth-heads and sketchy people, and hotels will quickly catch on to this.  And hey, we're trying to sell an experience to a guest, we want our guests to be personally escorted to their rooms every time, we want to tell them our story along the way, and let them know what's happening this evening and during their stay at the hotel and in the surrounding area.  There's nothing better than being greeted at the front desk with a nice drink and a little snack while you check-in, being informed, and getting familiar with your new home for the night or a few nights.  At least that's my opinion.  I think keyless hotels will happen, but I shudder at the thought of what will happen to the idea of true hospitality... sure, in a capsule hotel, a motel, a big-box hotel, etc. it'll work... but not for those seeking a more intimate hotel that's more like a home and less like a filing cabinet in a morgue.