Guest Room Tech Tops Investment Priorities as Locking Hack Makes Headlines

By Abigail A. Lorden, Editor-in-Chief | December 11, 2012

It’s crowded at the top of the to-do list. We’ve just published the 2013 Lodging Technology Study, where hotel executives reveal which technology projects are top priorities for the year ahead. Their biggest investment (20% of their overall IT budgets) will be in guest room technology, focusing first on Wi-Fi access and bandwidth, and soon thereafter on upgrading door locks. Pressure to provide ample bandwidth is on, with high guest expectations for connectivity. But at the moment, it’s room locking technology that’s in the hot seat.

Hotel guest room technology — and door locks in particular — received national attention in recent months when Forbes broke the news about a potential room lock security flaw found in Onity locks by a 24-year old software developer and security researcher. In a highly-contested decision (criticized as poor judgment by some and applauded as necessary full disclosure by others), the researcher released specific details of how to perform the lock hack. Since then a handful of hotels have alleged that the method was used by thieves in a series of guest room break-ins.

While the threat is limited to one manufacturer’s locking technology, it still could impact as many as 4 million hotel rooms. Onity responded with a fix, but is charging hoteliers for replacement technology, also a decision under criticism. Hotels, meanwhile, are putting a priority on upgrading locking technology. According to our survey, which was conducted at about the same time that the news broke about the potential lock flaw, more than one-third of hoteliers (35% overall) are planning to upgrade their hotel locks. About 20% will do so by the end of 2013, and another 15% will upgrade sometime thereafter.

Right now, there are plenty of fingers being pointed with regard to ownership, if the hack method becomes a repeated source of break-ins. But regardless of who is to blame, it’s the guest whose safety is compromised and the hotel whose name will be tarnished — much in the same way a payment security breach impacts consumers and merchants. As pressure for more sophisticated — and now secure — guest room technology increases, hotel investments in this area will become an even higher stakes game.

Related Story: Lock Hack Draws Fire for Hotel & Vendor

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