Hotels Lock it Up

By Christina Volpe | October 09, 2008

Locking systems have come a long way from the days of the traditional magnetic strip key card and reader. With the demand for solutions that offer a higher level of security and usability, vendors are responding with locking solutions that are not only easy to use, but aesthetically pleasing to boot. Contactless locking solutions that rely on radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and near field communication (NFC) cell phone compatibility are two solutions that are poised to be the next big innovations in door-locking security.

Contact-free
Launched earlier this year, the contactless 790 lock by Kaba Ilco (www.kabailco.com) is just one solution that uses RFID technology. A keycard or fob is equipped with an RF chip that emits signals to the reader, located on the door lock. This ergonomically designed contactless reader only requires guests and staff to hold up a key card, wristband, or fob to the reader in order to gain access to their room. The use of contactless MIFARE keycard credentials prevents occurrences of key card demagnetization, are auditable for up to 2,000 events, and work in conjunction with Kaba Ilco's next generation FDU (front desk unit).

"It was selected because [we] wanted the best possible solution," states Cheryl Ann Grigg, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, Halifax Airport (www.hiexpress.com). "The system is completely seamless for staff and for guests, security-wise."

The 119-room property, which just opened a few months ago, is one of the few hotels in Halifax to use RFID hotel locks. The contactless 790s are installed on each guest room door, at the business center, and in common areas equipped with panic bars for the pool and hotel exits.

"Guests are really intrigued by it," says Grigg. "Most do not experience this type of a system and they think that it is neat because the card works either inside or out. The staff really likes the system because it is user friendly."

The Signature RFID lock by VingCard (www.vingcard.com) is another contactless locking solution that relies on RFID technology. It operates on an open platform system that is compatible with the three leading RFID ISO standards and also features a variety of access options including low cost guest cards, long lasting staff cards, keyfobs, wristbands, and NFC cell phone compatibility.

"VingCard is bringing [locking technology] into the 21st century," says Don Smith, the director of security at the historic Plaza Hotel (www.fairmont.com/ThePlaza) in New York City. VingCard's Signature RFID lock was selected to be installed at The Plaza during a two-year, $400,000,000 renovation.

"It is like a magic wand," says Smith. "The simplicity of it is a beautiful thing and guest response has been very positive. The business traveler doesn't even need to take the card out of his wallet; he just needs to put his wallet up to the door."

Security-wise, Signature RFID cannot be cloned like traditional mag-strip cards and features automatic lock and unlock capabilities that can audit up to 600 events.

"We can track unbelievably far back. This hotel may be just one stop in a business traveler's journey, and if something is missing we can physically go back and look at who went in there and then go to that department and have all the tools to prove or disprove cases. It makes security that much better," says Smith.

"And as far as housekeeping goes, we can now use this device to lock out anyone until a new guest comes in." Using a traditional keycard, Smith explains that some guests will check out at 12 Noon, but then go back to the room because they know that their key will work until 2 p.m. "It is just not a comfortable feeling to know that someone went back into that room," he explains.

The lock itself comes in a variety of color options as does the door handle, and there are no accessible parts from the outside. At The Plaza, an outside designer was commissioned to implement a Plaza design on the lock.  

Another use for your cell
Guests checking into their hotel in Europe or Asia may well be using their NFC-enabled cell phone to unlock the door. Although not yet available in the United States, Signature RFID's NFC mobile phone compatibility is expected to debut in the U.S. in the years to come.

Near field communication, or NFC, is a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology which enables the exchange of data between devices over a distance of about 4 inches. The technology is a simple extension of RFID's proximity-card standard that combines the interface of a smartcard and a reader into a single device.

Featured as one of the many highlights of HITEC's Guestroom 2010 this year, hotels equipped with the RFID/NFC locks offer a solution that will allow guests to skip the check-in line upon arrival and go straight to their room, using their cell phone to unlock their door. Through a short messaging system (SMS, also known as text messaging), guests will receive not only a booking confirmation and room number, but an encrypted room key access code that unlocks their door. And at the end of their stay, guests again use their cell phones to check-out through an NFC-enabled in-room television or an NFC-enabled hotel kiosk.

"We have a lot of European guests who are into gadgets and they like the idea that you can check-in on your way to the hotel," says Smith. "The need to stop at the front desk is of the old 20th century. Bringing it into the 21st century, they don't even need to check in. It is bringing the hotel industry to where it needs to be."

Marketing opportunities
On the heels of cell phone compatibility, FoneKey (www.fonekey.net) is providing NFC-enabled locking vendors with a solution that that not only allows for remote check-in options, but also taps into the marketing segment. Utilizing cell phones, PDA's and other handhelds, their hospitality suite integrates RFID mobile locks and cellular phones with a hotels' property management system through FoneKey's gateway. It provides guests with remote check-in and check-out options in addition to access to loyalty guest programs globally via SMS and other rich media to advertise promotions and special offers taking place at the property. The solution features web access and works with many property management and locking systems.

Since its product testing in two sister hotels (the Regal Enclave (www.regalenclave.com) and the Executive Enclave (www.executiveenclave.com) in Mumbai India, using local property management system applications), FoneKey is expanding conversations to conduct pilot tests with property management and locking systems in U.S. hotels.

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