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Starwood Hotels & Resorts explores replacing room keys with iPhones and Android devices


The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Starwood Hotels & Resorts (which owns hotel brands like Sheraton and Westin) is rolling out a new pilot program that will allow guests to bypass the check-in desk altogether and head straight to their rooms, using their smartphone as an electronic key. The program will first be available in Cupertino and New York City, with the company angling for a broader rollout in the months to come.

Starwood officials are hoping this will be one of the biggest technological changes in the industry since free WiFi. "We believe this will become the new standard for how people will want to enter a hotel," says Frits van Paasschen, Starwood's CEO. "It may be a novelty at first, but we think it will become table stakes for managing a hotel."

Guests at participating hotels must download a Starwood app to receive a message "containing a virtual key." The key communicates with a particular room via Bluetooth, enabling guests to enter their room by either tapping or waving their device at a sensor on the door. A video demoing the feature can be seen below.

So is this the wave (no pun intended) of the future?

Perhaps, but it's hard to ignore a few practical issues with the whole endeavor. One, assuming that the iPhone becomes your virtual key, do you have to lug it around with you everywhere you go? To the gym, to the pool? Might that become a bit burdensome? In other words, is this a solution in search of a problem?

To this end, the Journal talked to a hotel owner who tried a similar check-in process at two Holiday Inns before ultimately nixing the initiative.

He found that many travelers will sacrifice speed or ease to talk with a staff member and ensure their room has the right view or location, or to try for an upgrade. Other guests may still want to be greeted when they arrive.
It'll certainly be interesting to see if Starwood's initiative proves to be more successful.

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