The Digital Hotel Key – A Positive Entry to Disruption


On a recent visit to San Francisco I stayed at the San Francisco Hilton Union Square. (Don’t worry; I am not going to offer hotel room reviews. Tripadvisor and others have that covered). As a long time member of Hilton Honours I was offered the chance for a Digital Key to my room. My phone would become my primary communications device for the hotel.

The Digital Key is something that I have been positively anticipating for a few years. As an early adopter of technology, I was happy to use it regardless of potential flaws.

I was notified through the Hilton app that I could use a Digital Key. I could use this digital key to check in, select my room and then go to my room without having to go to the front office. All good. Unfortunately from the technology utilization perspective, I arrived early and had to go to reception because my digital key wasn’t ready due to the out of hours check in. That is of course no fault of the technology. Once I had done that I was away.

In general it worked well, although a few times took a few seconds to register, but again, it was not enough to test my attention span.

The key issue came on the second night. I went to open my room and the door would not open. It was not working at all. I had to get security to let me in to my room, (which took some convincing, because with Apple Pay, I did not need my wallet, so no ID).

I then had to go down to reception and have the key recoded. This was a concern. It provided doubt in my mind. Would the digital key fail again? Why did it fail?

I was fortunate to run into the hotel locksmith. After we discussed the technology the issue was that my room was in a wireless black spot. As a result the experience was diminished, and the risk of failure remained (As an aside, kudos to Hilton, they gifted my 10,000 bonus points as a result of my issue. Clearly they want the technology to work, and more importantly visitors to have an enhanced experience).

Some other points on the technology

  • Only one card can be issued per reservation. If there are two people staying at the hotel only one has a digital key. This is a flaw that is limited by technology. It must be changed to provide a real experience
  • The role of the hotel locksmith has continued to be disrupted. There is no role that stays the same in the digital era
  • More broadly, there is a very disrupted experience for the hotel staff, and the customer’s engagement with them. It will be possible not to speak with a human through the entire hotel experience, and the impact on society is very important to consider. I know as a regular traveller, human contact on the road, even at a hotel reception is very important.
  • The customer experience when it works is very strong. Virtually all customers have their mobile with them, so it is one less thing to lose during the day, or forget to take in the morning.


Of course this technology will not be limited to hotels. Any entry process that requires a key can now be mobile first, be it offices, gyms etc. This takes the mobile device and of course makes it event more central in our lives. Is that a good thing?

As your driver’s license, credit card, hotel key and entire record of life of an individual is attached to a mobile device, then we have to adapt our relationship with technology even more fundamentally. We will shift expenditure to those who can provide the integrated digital experience and away from those who fail to understand.

Capture Point

The hotel experience is ripe for disruption. The digital hotel key is just one step in this process. Initial experience has been positive. There is still work to be done in reliability and for multiple users, but it is a technology that will substantially change our relationship with the hotel experience. Now to disrupt the rental car market.

About capioIT - Phil Hassey

If you require further information, please contact Phil Hassey, CEO of capioIT. capioIT is an advisory firm focused on helping organisations to understand emerging technology as the world becomes Digital. Phil may be contacted easily in the digital and real world. +61422231793
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s