Pilot Project Begins To Replace Your Hotel Key With Your Smartphone Using Bluetooth

Soon enough you’ll be able to walk into a hotel, straight past the front desk and have your door open automatically for you without any extra effort required, thanks to a new pilot project by Starwood Hotels (via WSJ). Two hotels are debuting keyless entry via smartphones that have a companion app installed and can communicate via Bluetooth 4.0, one in Harlem and one in Cupertino, with both set to go live before the end of the first quarter of this year.

Notably, the tech doesn’t use NFC, but rather opts for low-energy Bluetooth, which is available on Apple’s latest iPhone models as well as on most contemporary high-end Android smartphones. The implementation by Starwood would deploy virtual keys via their smartphone app to hotel guests, which would allow the guests to then open their hotel room door simply by tapping or gesturing with their device once they arrive.

Starwood is bullish on the potential of the tech: CEO Frits van Paasschen told the WSJ that it believes this will be the “new standard” for hotel access, once it gets past the novelty stage. Of course, it has some potential limitations, like how to easily provision multiple keys for guests and their kids, as well as making sure that the tech is secure enough that patrons are comfortable with it. Plus, unforeseen parts of the check-in experience like arriving hours early are things often dealt with on the fly by the people manning the desk, so there will probably be a learning curve during the pilot process where this stuff is worked out.

Fixing check-ins is a priority for hotels because the check-in process, especially during times when a hotel is busy, causes a bottleneck, and is responsible for unpleasant experiences for both employees and customers. Introducing self check-ins and virtual keys alleviates those bottlenecks, and in the short-term at least, won’t replace the traditional check-in methods altogether. There’s the possibility that the whole thing becomes automated down the road (I’d argue inevitably, too) but for now it would work in tandem with real human staff.

Starwood wants to roll the system out at all of its W and Aloft locations by the end of 2015, so it’ll be interesting to see how this pilot goes. If any hotel chain can make it work, it’s Starwood, with its trendy, tech-loving demographic appeal, but it’s still very early days for this kind of tech. Others like Nymi envision a time when this kind of automatic entry is also tied to your heart rate, but first we’ll see if people like the idea of their phones giving them instant access to a clean bed and warm room after a day of travel. As with most new tech undertakings, it’ll probably depend entirely on how frustration free the experience is from the start.