The new technology, which will be trialled in Starwood’s Aloft hotels in Harlem, New York, and Cupertino, California, allows guests to check in prior to their arrival at the hotel using the Starwood app, and use a ‘virtual’ key to open their room.
In a statement sent to BigHospitality, Starwood said the virtual key system, which uses Bluetooth technology, was developed as part of a ‘top secret’ project with Swedish lock partner Assa Abloy.
“This is the latest in a series of innovations stemming from a multi-year investment Starwood is making in digital/mobile technology including hardware, software, and global infrastructure,” it explained.
The company said that if the trial proves successful, the new technology will be rolled out across Starwood's Aloft and W hotels in 2015.
However, a spokesperson was unable to comment on whether the technology would be introduced in Starwood’s UK hotels.
Claudia Harris, event manager for Hospitality Technology Europe (HTE), told BigHospitality that Starwood’s new technology would appeal to guests looking for ‘convenience and quick access’.
“Starwood has clearly done its homework and seen the lucrative market that exists out there for this type of service,” she said.
“There are lots of business people out there who simply don’t have the time, don’t want a chat at the front desk and there are even hotels now which don’t even have front desks or concierges."
However, she added that while there is certainly ‘room to grow’ in this area, self-service is not necessarily the future of hotel technology.
“Personally I still believe that people still want the human touch,” she said.
“There is a danger of overloading guests with unwanted and unneeded pieces of technologies in hotels and obviously hoteliers walk a fine line between making guests’ stays easier through technology and not being seen as an unwanted intrusion.“
Harris’ comments reflect the findings of a report released by the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) earlier this month.
The report found that travellers are increasingly more self-reliant and willing to ‘go it alone’, with business travellers in particular keen to bypass the front desk and get to work.
“We are observing a new traveller tribe we call the ‘invisible’ traveller’ – travellers who want to seamlessly pass through hotels with minimal interaction with staff,” it said.
“For these travellers, good service is often invisible service.”
However, the report stressed that the market is segmented, with some guests still looking to speak to 'real people' during their stay.
Even Starwood recognises the importance of maintaining human interaction, and claims its new technology will actually improve the guest experience. "A truly keyless check-in allows the first guest interaction with hotel associates to be personal rather than transactional," it said.
Starwood is not the first hotel business to look at introducing self-service options to speed up check-in for guests.
Last summer, Thistle Hotels rolled out an Express check-in service allowing guests who have booked online to check-in before arrival and simply pick up keys from the front desk when they arrive, while hostel and bar group Bed & Bars launched an online check-in and payment service across its St Christopher Inns business.
Harris said the move towards self-service has been driven by keyless entry systems such as OpenWave and VingCard, and the development of near-field communication (NFC) technology – which is set to ‘dominate the headlines’ in 2014.
“It is these types of technologies that are leading the way to more automated travel processes, be it baggage tags with tracking abilities, easy pass lanes, and the express check-in facilities that groups like Starwood are beginning to implement,” she said.