Locking Good

By Chitra Sethi • Associate Editor | November 01, 2006

Effective guestroom security is an essential part of the hospitality package. Only a few years ago hotel operators were talking about smart cards and today most upscale hotels have transitioned to the technology. With encryption techniques that protect the information stored on the cards -- making them more secure -- smart cards are offering much more to the hotels than just greater peace of mind.
Electronic locking systems have become more intelligent with the adoption of the smart card technology. They are feature-rich and tie to back-of-house systems such as the point-of-service, property management, loyalty, and even energy management systems. More and more hotels are thus upgrading to locking solutions that are scalable, customizable and networked.

Access control
The Windsor Court Hotel located in the center of the New Orleans business district has put a significant emphasis on technology and installed a new locking system. The hotel upgraded from hard key metal door locks to electronic locks from Onity (www.onity.com) two years back. "The new locks from Onity have a modular design that allows us to blend advanced locking technology into the hotel décor," highlights Craig Bruno, director of security at Windsor Court Hotel. "Moreover, electronic locks are much easier for guests to use and help the hotel keep track of guest as well as staff activity."

In the past, the hotel provided conventional keys to housekeepers, room service attendants and maintenance personnel. The distribution of keys compromised guest belongings and increased the liability of the hotel. Now employee key cards can be coded to allow access only to their assigned units of responsibility and only during the hours of their shift.

"The locks have smart card capabilities which allow auditing key cards and conducting remote lock interrogations," informs Bruno. "Rather then doing physical lock interrogations, I can interrogate keys to identify the last 100 units that were serviced," he adds. Smart card technology is built into the locks which is much more useful for the back of the house than the front.

The check in and check out of each room can be tracked at any point of time. For instance, each time a housekeeper finishes a shift the room status is reported.

The employee key card traditionally identifies and controls access for authorized personnel; with smart card technology, the card becomes a tool for use by management. For instance, reports generated from a maintenance engineer's smart card help verify work order fulfillment by indicating whether or not a service call was placed to a specific room. "I can find out where any employee is or where they have been," Bruno continues. Key cards can track all card holders who have entered any room in the hotel.

High on savings
"Smart cards are enabling more efficient housekeeping, greater security, improved energy efficiency and better customer satisfaction," believes Pete Horvath, director of IT at The Talbott Hotel. The European-style deluxe hotel located in the heart of Chicago's Gold Coast migrated to the MT Infrared Lock system from Saflok (www.saflok.com) a year-and-a-half ago.

"We pride ourselves as an European boutique hotel and technology gives us an edge and works for us. We upgraded to the infrared lock to reap more benefits from the energy management that it enables," apprises Horvath. "With this technology we can interrogate the lock at any point of time. We can monitor if any door is closed or open in one screen and we see it as it is happening -- it's real time."

The savings in energy management for The Talbott Hotel have been significant since upgrading its locking system. Information conveyed by this system can be used to determine the occupancy of a room, which can be communicated with energy management systems. When both locks and motion detectors determine the room is unoccupied, the energy-management system takes over, setting back the room temperature to save energy costs. When a guest checks out, the property management system (PMS) sends a signal to the thermostat to automatically lower the temperature even further, creating additional savings.

Horvath informs that there is also a smart card encoder in the lock which helps track staff activity in the rooms at all times. "This has a direct correlation to security as we know at all times who entered or exited the room and at what time. The card stores and reports information from every transaction related to the room. This gives us more control over security and helps us enhance the guest experience," he says.

This information is tracked automatically, providing instant access to lock status. "Earlier if we had to check a room we had to manually go and interrogate the lock or conduct a handheld probe which was at times intrusive and annoying for the guest. But now we can do so without disturbing the guest and without leaving our room," observes Horvath.

Another key benefit, according to Horvath, is the seamless interfacing of the locking system with the PMS. The hotel uses Galaxy Hotel Systems PMS which easily integrates with the security system. This ensures faster check in for guests at the front desk.

Contactless security
An innovative locking technology that is picking up speed is proximity technology, which needs no card slot and where the locks are environmentally sealed. Without the necessity of inserting objects into the lock, the card reader incurs no wear and tear and such locks are more stable and secure. Hotel 1000, which opened in downtown Seattle this past June, has installed the FeLica lock, Miwa Lock's (www.miwalock.com) newest proximity technology, a cutting edge technology solution that has the capacity to read a key from within one inch of the lock to open the door.

"Security is higher with proximity technology than with a magnetic stripe card and there is no physical touching involved," explains James Simkins, EVP, MTM Luxury Lodging, the managing company of Hotel 1000. "Since its inception Hotel 1000 has always worked to create a platform for future technology under the Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) guidelines. It is the only hotel in the U.S. so far to install proximity technology from Miwa Lock," he shares.

Japan and Europe use proximity technology extensively and Hotel 1000 selected it essentially for two reasons -- for its scalable systems and its ability to talk to other technologies. "At Hotel 1000 we leverage innovative, cutting edge design and technology to deliver a truly customized experience to every guest," Simkins highlights. "It blends into the room décor and is far more attractive. That's another reason why we chose this technology over the standard magnetic stripe cards," he adds.

However, the prime reason for selecting it was the technology, admits James. These locks have a small computer built into the card and a radio transmitter to exchange data transfer. The card can therefore store ample information on it. Going forward the hotel is looking at having just one card that will enable the guest to use the key as the amenity card in the hotel as well. All customer preferences will thus get stored in a single card.

It is only a matter of time before proximity technology becomes common in U.S. hotels. Then it will be time for the next phase of technological development -- perhaps using biometrics, which allows identification via fingerprints or iris scans.


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