- Updated on 02.11.21 -

In this opinion piece, Moritz von Petersdorff-Campen looks at the impact of Apple’s new room key feature on the hotel industry.

At this year’s developers conference on June 7th, 2021, Apple not only announced the launch of new features to make all our lives even more convenient, but they also introduced new capabilities for the Apple Wallet, which will lead to the demise of hotel apps in the not too distant future!

From now on, the Apple Wallet will be capable of storing IDs and digital hotel keys. Apple also announced their first hotel partnership with the Hyatt Hotel Group and possibly more importantly, with the leading door manufacturer Assa Abloy, who has implemented locks in hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms worldwide.

With this new functionality, guests will be able to open hotel room doors without needing to download the hotel’s brand app. Until now, opening hotel doors using the hotel’s brand app has been the method of choice for many hotels. However, the adoption rates by guests are quite poor, typically being below 15%. But, it is all too often preferred over a progressive web app as many door lock manufacturers don’t support web apps due to security concerns. Furthermore, hotels often hope to use hotel apps to become a part of their guests’ lives by installing an app on their phones. The hope is, that installing this app will lead to increased repeat bookings.

However, this theory has so far failed to materialize, and apart from Marriott and Hilton who have very strong loyalty programs, hotels have struggled to encourage guests to download and engage with their app. You can read more about this topic here.

Apple’s recent announcement is a game-changer for the hotel industry. Instead of using an app or web apps, guests will have a third option that is way more convenient, less invasive, and ultimately, more in tune with their expectations of digital convenience.

Now, guests can receive an email with their room key, whether they check in digitally or physically. This room key can be stored on their Apple wallet, and then retrieved once they get to their room. In fact, Apple’s facial recognition security feature makes these digital keys even more secure than physical keys or digital apps.

As if that wasn’t enough, digital hotel room keys might also be able to use the new UWB protocol, opening the door automatically without guests even needing to take their phone out of their pocket! This will really make it feel like the future of the hotel room is here and also make outdated, underused hotel apps completely redundant.

Apart from the fact that guests rarely download hotel apps, it’s also much more convenient than putting their reservation details into an app and reduces the risk of their being disruptions to the check-in process. Guests could quite easily enter typos or feel uncomfortable about leaving their data on an app they don’t know or trust. In these cases, they will need a member of staff to help them with the app or get a physical keycard, which ultimately defeats the purpose of having the app in the first place.

There is likely to be resistance from hotels and hotel chains who would much prefer guests to download their app to open doors. This isn’t surprising—apps can be expensive and if you’ve invested all that money into a certain solution for it to then be surpassed by a more useful solution, you’d still want to get your money’s worth. But, in this situation, hoteliers might be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Guests are ultimately the most important element for hotel businesses, and any hoteliers that jeopardize the guest experience at their hotel for an app that makes the experience more complicated and frustrating than it needs to be will find their guests leaving dissatisfied. As more and more hotels adopt this new digital wallet-based room key solution, guests will come to expect this as an industry standard. Ultimately, this will force hoteliers to adopt this solution, so it’s probably a good idea to be an early adopter rather than lagging behind the rest of the industry.

Apple’s announcement is only the start of something new. I expect Google will quickly follow Apple’s lead, and with Assa Abloy and potentially many more manufacturers joining forces with them, this technology will open new doors for the future of hotel tech.

Any hoteliers or hotel management staff that think their hotel app is more impressive and stronger than solutions created by the biggest tech companies in the world need a reality check. Rather than pushing their own app solution, they should be asking themselves:

– How can I ensure that I retain ownership of the check-in process so that guests download the wallet key directly from my hotel rather than from booking.com or the Expedia app?

– How can hotels facilitate digital communication in a way that guest usage is strong, the hotel is in control of the channel and its content, and where hotel managers do not need to worry that the next Apple developer’s conference will jeopardize their IT investments?

It will take some time before Apple and their partners roll out this new solution and it will take even more time before hotels have written off their investments in hotel apps. But in the end, it is upon guests to decide which technology will prevail. I don’t think it is too hard to see which option guests will choose.

- Published on June 11, 2021

Topics: Industry News

Moritz v. Petersdorff-Campen

Moritz v. Petersdorff-Campen

Moritz is a Co-Founder and Managing Director of SuitePad.

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