Hoteliers are ditching traditional plastic swipe cards in favor of new room keys that streamline operations and increase ROI.
GLOBAL REPORT—When hoteliers consider trends in guestroom keys, mobile keys accessed via smartphones might be the first thought that comes to mind. However, some hoteliers are finding other ways to ditch the swipe card in order to streamline operations, improve the guest experience and increase return on investment.
For one, wearable room keys can put operations assistance in the hands of guests. Kalahari Resorts and Conventions has transitioned two of its properties to using RFID wristbands instead of plastic keys. Data is encoded in these bands that allows guests to open their guestroom doors as well as pay for ancillary goods and services, such as food and beverage or retail, while on property. Karolyn Doro, rooms division director at Kalahari, said the switch from swipe cards to these wristbands has helped to streamline operations.
“Resort operations are greatly impacted on a high-volume turn,” she said.
Under the old key system, guests would first need to stand in line at the front desk to preregister, and they would receive passes to the resort’s waterpark as they waited for rooms to be turned. Then, after some time had passed, those guests would need to wait in line again to see if their room was ready for check-in. The RFID wristbands eliminate the need for guests to wait twice and thereby free up time for front-desk associates. Now, guests can preregister and receive their wristbands. When their room is ready, they receive a text message notification. Because the data is stored on their wearable room keys, they can simply go to their rooms instead of back to the front desk.
“Our associates and guests really appreciate the elevated experience. There is not any frustration on both ends,” Doro said.
What’s more, she said guests need not return to the front desk at check out. Guests can keep their wristbands when they leave, with access being shut off at departure time.
Guests who stay at Kalahari Resorts and Conventions properties are given RFID wristbands instead of plastic room keys. (Photo: Kalahari Resorts and Conventions)
Meliá Hotels International is also heading toward the wearable route, implementing smart wristbands embedded with a chip that connects wirelessly to the hotelier’s smartphone app. The technology has been installed in several hotels included in the company’s Magaluf portfolio with a pending second phase rollout in the works for the Caribbean market targeting the group’s Paradisus and Circle resorts, said Sara Ranghi, project leader for Oracle Room Keys at Meliá.
“The waterproof band lets guests pay for drinks, food, spa treatments and different stores, and it also serves as their room key,” Ranghi said via email. “André Gerondeau, COO of Meliá Hotels International, refers to it not just as a wristband credit card but a passport that enables the user to freely enter the destination and charge everything they want to eat, drink or buy, as well as any activity they want to try or enjoy.”
Ranghi said operations have remained similar with the integration, but every interaction with guests can now be tracked through Meliá’s app, which is connected to the company’s customer repository.
“The biggest implications were the changes made for the back of house, not only because new software versions were installed and new PDAs were required, but because we had to clearly define how the system would work and build the interface between a number of different systems, from PMS and POS to the internal database and our app,” Ranghi said.
Meanwhile, at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, a 97-room independent in California, doing away with plastic keys was a sustainability move that speaks to the hotel’s brand.
“We swapped our traditional plastic room keys for new bamboo key cards which are crafted from certified sustainably managed trees and imbedded with an electronic chip that gives access to a room like a traditional key,” said Kurt Bjorkman, GM of the property.
When guests check in, they are provided with the bamboo key for the duration of their stay. At check-out, guests can choose to leave the key with the hotel team to reuse or keep it as a souvenir. If the bamboo key cards wear over time or are thrown away, they will biodegrade back into the soil naturally, Bjorkman added.
He said the bamboo tokens work the same way that a plastic key card would. That is, if a guest is locked out or loses the key, the front-desk team can provide a replacement. He noted that the bamboo keys are more durable so they can be reused more than their traditional counterparts.
New ideas can often cost more money, especially when they skirt on the cutting edge. However, sources said the ROI from such innovative ideas is evident.
Doro said a big reason the RFID wristbands were implemented was so that guests could easily use all of the facilities the resorts have to offer. It translates to less of a barrier for guests to spend on ancillary products and services when they don’t have to worry about carrying a wallet or purse. For example, many of the water parks include a swim-up bar. Guests can simply pay for their drinks using the waterproof wristband, making the process to pay less cumbersome and thereby encouraging more spend.
Ranghi said that similar jumps in ancillary spend have been noted at the Meliá properties using the bracelets.
“The bracelet has some operating efficiencies, but the main beauty of it is that it allows our guests to buy and pay later at check-out in all of our restaurants and bars of the area, our hotel stores, spas and the nearby shopping center,” Ranghi said. “We believe that, by the end of the coming season, the figures will show good results as part of the positive impact made by the introduction of the bracelets.”
Bjorkman said the bamboo keys used at his hotel are slightly more expensive to produce than traditional plastic keys, but the extra investment has been worth the positive experience that the sustainable keys create.
“We’ve found that most guests are very supportive of the sustainability aspect behind the keys, so they choose to leave them behind so they can be recycled for another guest’s visit,” he said, which can help to control those costs.