Guests arriving at the Aloft Hotel in Manhattan or one in Silicon Valley will soon be able to do something hotels have dreamed about offering for years: walk past the check-in desk and enter their rooms by using a smartphone as a room key.
The boutique hotel brand from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide plans to offer this feature at two hotels, in the Harlem neighborhood and in Cupertino, Calif., before the end of the quarter.
Guests at these properties will receive a message on a Starwood app containing a virtual key, which will unlock the door with a tap or twist of their phone through the use of Bluetooth technology. The company says the iPhone 4s or newer models and the Android phones running 4.3 or newer will be compatible.
Starwood officials are hoping this will be one of the biggest technological changes in the industry since free Wi-Fi. "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."
Not everyone is so sure. Past attempts to use technology to streamline the check-in process have had mixed results.
Robert Habeeb, president of the First Hospitality Group, which is the owner of 55 hotels in the U.S., says he pulled out check-in kiosks at two of his Holiday Inn hotels after finding that most guests ignored them. 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.
"The hotel front desk is a bit a like a bartender," Mr. Habeeb says. "It can be an interaction people enjoy."