Starwood Preferred Guest, the loyalty programme for Starwood Hotels (Sheraton, Westin, St Regis etc) is trialling new technology which will eventually allow you to use your mobile phone as a key for your hotel room. We wrote about this here.
As luck would have it the trial was taking place at a property I was going to stay at – the W Hotel Hong Kong. I also am a member of the SPG loyalty programme – a precondition of taking part in the trial, and presumably the programme when it is rolled out across Starwood properties.
I’m a gold member (courtesy of having a Platinum American Express Card), not a platinum member, but that was good enough for this trial. So before setting off for Hong Kong I downloaded the SPG App from the App store onto my Android phone, logged in, and saw that my upcoming trip was registered and they had the right dates for my arrival.
Now in theory, sometime before my arrival I would receive an invitation to take part in the trial. This did not happen. Technology like this is never going to be introduced without a few teething problems, so I was ready for that. What was more problematical is that I try not to use my phone for data when travelling in Hong Kong, since it is very expensive to do so.
So I took the Airport Express into Hong Kong and got off at Kowloon Station's Airport Express stop, which is where the W Hotel (and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel) are situated, along with the Elements shopping centre.
When I got to the hotel, while in reception, I connected to the complimentary wifi in reception (it lasts for two hours). I then waited to see if I would receive my invitation. There’s a page explaining this here.
Unfortunately, I didn’t. So instead, since I had mentioned the trial and my hopes for taking part to the receptionist, she offered to show me how the system worked with a mobile phone they had behind reception for this purpose. Well of course that worked fine, she took me up to my room, opened the door with her phone, then handed me a normal keycard.
This is roughly what the system looks like when it works on your phone
So far so normal, but I wanted to see it in action, so a few days later I arranged to meet one of the technology guys working at the hotel (Simon) and we tried to make it work.
The security side is important, because the app on your phone needs to be running and also contain all your credit card information (obviously) before it lets you into your pre-assigned room. That shouldn’t be a problem, after all companies such as Marriott are already rolling out mobile check-in for Marriott Reward members (see story here).
It also needs to work in the elevator up to your room if the hotel has such a security system (the W Hotel in Hong Kong does). As the press release has it "Starwood tapped the world’s largest lock manufacturer, Assa Abloy, to create an all-new, Bluetooth-enabled lock as well as keyless software, which are designed to securely recognize and connect with a guest’s mobile device."
So did it work? Well, no, the short answer is it didn’t, but we could make it work on the dummy door (pictured below).
It’s the future, and it’s coming. While some hotels still have physical keys, and others have keycards, there’s little doubt that using smartphones (or perhaps smartwatches) will soon become common.
From the hotel’s point of view, they are convenient, cheap (because you bought the phone but they have to buy a keycard), but best of all they encourage you to join the loyalty programme of the hotel and provide all your credit card information – something every marketer and hotelier wants in order to try and make a loyal customer of you.
That’s for the long run, however. The short term vision is for this to be a point of differentiation – and when it starts to work for Starwood, it will be. Until the other companies get it to work as well.
SPG Keyless is now being trialled at Aloft Beijing, Aloft Cancun, Aloft Cupertino, Aloft Harlem, W Doha, W Hollywood, W Hong Kong, W New York-Downtown, W Singapore and Element Times Square.