The Challenges Hoteliers Face Moving to RFID Locks and Mobile Key.

Keystep Solutions Experts in Access Control

RFID Locks and Mobile Key

The Challenges Hoteliers Face Moving to RFID Locks and Mobile Key 


We have all been there you arrive at your hotel after a long journey, your pleased, the hotel looks amazing as you enter through the revolving doors, you had your doubts after reading Trip Advisor, you should stop reading the reviews!

The receptionist greets you with a smile; you listen to the usual details of times for breakfast, the gym opening times and head off to your room impressed with the efficient and welcoming reception staff. The glass lift wafts you effortlessly up to your floor and you wander down a contemporary corridor to your executive room. You push the key card into the lock and all you get is the red light, you try a couple more times and then resign yourself to the  walk back to reception, the illusion of a luxury shattered!

Sound familiar? Are you fed up with “you must have put the card next to your phone excuse?” from the reception staff, what sort of door system can’t cope with a mobile phone being next to the key card you ask yourself? The answer is a door locking system that is 20 years old. The classic magnetic card is a dangerously insecure and needs to be replaced, it’s on its way out, it can’t go fast enough for guests, but hotel operators just haven’t caught on to the damage they are doing to their brand in a misguided attempt to save money.

Locking systems and keys for hotels are undergoing a rare paradigm shift from the ageing Magnetic Stripe to RFID contactless technology. This will dramatically increase the security and reliability of the locks. It also opens up the much-anticipated possibility of guests using their phone to unlock their bedroom door and bypass the reception desk completely. Self-Service Check-In is something the airlines caught onto a decade ago. This will mean enhanced integration with booking and Property Management Systems and a change to the guest journey unlike anything the industry has ever had to deal with before.

The industry is about to be forced to deal with some challenges that have been ignored for the last decade, failing legacy mag card systems with no upgrade path, the end of support for Windows 7 and rising guest expectations means that operators who have managed with their old mag card system will almost find it impossible to operate their hotels within the next 3 to 5 years if they don’t make the move to the next generation of RFID locks. Senior decision makers need to start planning for the capital expenditure and implementations they will have to carry out over the next few years.

With locks having evolved little in the last 20 years we are heading for a massive change that the hospitality sector is un-prepared for in terms of process or technology. It’s going to be a revolution, not evolution and with any revolution there will be casualties.

When Tor Sørnes patented the first electronic keycard lock he created a new market for programmable locks and the potential for a range of authentication methods. Half a century later, it seems we are only now starting to glimpse the real potential for electronic lock technology.

Locks are transitioning from being isolated dumb devices to interconnected intelligent devices and the future revolves around the smartphones that most of us carry in our pockets.

For those working at any level in hospitality this brings several challenges from keeping legacy systems running to managing the move to new solutions and the constant battle to keep systems secure in our digital world.

Perhaps most obvious is a guest’s expectation that hotel services provide as high a level of quality and reliability as possible. This rings especially true for a hotel’s security where, thanks to widespread news coverage, guests are often just as informed about the latest product flaws and fixes as hoteliers are themselves. With guest satisfaction resting on the initial ability to obtain full peace of mind within their surroundings, properties must consider that a failure to update vulnerable security equipment can readily be recognised by guests and interpreted as a severe lack of consideration on the part of the hotel. Such guests may voice their dissatisfaction by taking their business elsewhere, forging relationships with those hoteliers that adequately address their safety needs.

Many hotels see the door access system as just there to let guests in their rooms and do not actively manage the system. Due to the makeup of the door entry system part mechanical, part IT system its responsibility can be difficult to pin point, is it maintenance, front desk or IT department and in many cases, no one takes responsibility for this mission critical system. You have to look beyond “it’s just a system for letting guests in rooms” it is probably one of the most critical systems you have in your hotel after power and water! As guests become more tech savvy and self-sufficient in their travel habits, technology to enable seamless, faster check-in and room entry will become a necessity in a modern hotel.

If you operate multiple properties then you need to start setting aside considerable financial and technical resource for transitioning from Mag Card to RFID locks. No doubt there will be a rush for the exits as the hospitality sector finally has to act and it could be that the new locks, but more critically the resource to install them is in short supply.


Hotels are increasingly dependent on IT, but bedevilled by a mishmash of aging systems that don't work well together. As a whole the industry is slow to adopt new technology and gaining approval for expenditure is always a challenge. Especially for what is seen as not directly adding to profitability.

When spending millions on hotel refurbishments its incredible that 10 or 20 year old door locks are being put back on brand new doors that open onto a beautiful new room, what sort of image do you think this projects? More importantly what it tells the customers on how you seriously you take their safety. Worse still is the illusion that hotel operators are saving money by not replacing the electronic door locks. The cost of operating these legacy systems and the eye watering price of the locks means you are actually spending more money keeping an old system running than you would spend replacing the system. Other sectors have already moved on from magnetic card hoteliers need to do the same.

When it comes to access control, there is no greater responsibility than specifying the correct locking solution on bedroom, emergency escape and fire doors. Fitting the correct system can mean the difference between life and death for the occupants of a building. When retro fitting locks to existing doors the new locks need to comply with the current fire regulations, but your existing doors may not. Remedial work may be required to bring the doors and frames up to standard. There is clear evidence that there needs to be more education and a higher priority placed on escape and fire door safety, and how to ensure the solutions specified are both safe and compliant.

While airlines and rental car companies have made mobile check-in and boarding stations commonplace, hotels have been slow to adopt mobile solutions and solve pain points around the arrival process. Despite claims by some national stereotypes to stoically enjoy the queuing process, research has shown that a wait of over 5 minutes to check-in leads to a 50 percent drop in hotel stay satisfaction levels.

Hotels are much more complex than the airline industry, which is not a model of simplicity, American Airlines has to deal with one central reservation system.

Hotels Group have to deal with multiple property management systems and different central reservation systems.

In many ways, the hotel technology landscape reflects the industry's complexity and fragmentation. Large corporations may own several brands, but 75% of hotel properties are franchises, which are independently operated, while the property is likely to be owned by a third party. As a result, there's little standardisation even within hotels that share the same name.

A quality hotel room door and interior deadbolt are essential to providing this sense of security, but technology also plays an increasingly important role. Although there are a variety of keycard locking systems the vast majority of hoteliers still operate on mag card (71 percent) or with only 21% on RFID proximity cards.

Making the move to RFID

Assa Abloy have dominated the sector for decades with magnetic card, but with no easy upgrade to RFID they have lost their hold on the sector. More agile companies like Keystep Solutions have taken the lead by developing RFID solutions from the ground up instead of clinging to the past.

Although RFID has been around for decades, it typically has been deployed by retailers and manufacturers for supply chain management. Advances in open standard technologies have revealed new opportunities for its innovative use. As Forrester Research reports, forward-thinking companies aren’t limiting RFID to the supply chain any more. Rather, they are testing new RFID processes like production management, market research, promotion execution and in-store consumer services.

While hotels do not have the same supply chain needs for RFID, the light bulb has turned on in the industry for how it can be used strategically to address specific challenges and opportunities. As more and more industry leaders make this realisation, smarter hotels will embrace the creative use of RFID because it offers a chance to differentiate and significantly improve business fundamentals - reducing costs, maximising revenue - to create a smarter guest experience, smarter operations and smarter services.

Advances in RFID technology and supporting software offer hoteliers substantial new opportunities to create a superior guest experience, enhance revenue and reduce costs – a catalyst for positive change. Smart hoteliers will invest in RFID software and systems to transform their organisations because the opportunities are so great, and failure to advance with this technology will put them at a competitive disadvantage.

The key to realising the promise of RFID are also clear: adoption of up-to-date inter-operative technology and open architecture software, a commitment to responsible development and implantation by all parties, and imagination of hospitality organisations and solutions providers to creatively harness RFID. With so many advances in RFID now coming into the market, you no longer have to imagine the possibilities; RFID has arrived today to help enhance business fundamentals while creating a significant differentiator for the smart hotel and hospitality organisation.

Mobile Access

Not all hotel companies are ready to benefit from secure mobile access. Despite the topic's widespread press coverage, the savvy hotelier will make a sound business decision based on the business factors outlined in this white paper. If guest demand indicate the need for a mobile strategy, operators need to carefully devise a strategy.

This begins with the selection of the right mobile key integration partner to deliver the best app with the convenience and revenue-generating functions that satisfy guests. Security should be the top priority at every point in the mobile access development process. With a sound mobile strategy, operators can benefit from an app that meets their operation’s business objectives and their guests’ expectations.

Many hoteliers are mystified about how – or even if – they should commit the resources to develop mobile key guest access services for their properties. Hospitality press is full of stories on the growing popularity of mobile apps among tech savvy millennial travellers.

For guests weary of long queues at reception after a lengthy journey or business travellers on a tight schedule, Smartphone Access to their rooms is a valuable tool that can allow them to save vital time and ensure their satisfaction. For hoteliers, Mobile Access helps meet the ever-increasing demand for greater personalisation for each guest.

As a primary method to strengthen relationships with today’s increasingly technologically minded guests, mobile technology’s multiple advantages are becoming increasingly obvious. What merits further analysis, however, are the specific services and features that a property should strongly consider making available on a mobile app.

With consumers demonstrating that they are willing to retry an app only once or twice, it is becoming even more imperative that hoteliers implement a solution which is seamless, and which actually provides guests with the tools they seek in order to streamline their hotel-stay experience. The overall result is that many hoteliers are beginning to take investment in mobile engagement much more seriously, with statistics in 2019 demonstrating that 43 percent of properties consider mobile engagement a top spending priority.

Mobile access is currently the most debated topic in hotel company board rooms. Major chains already use mobile apps to drive loyalty programs and promote amenities and services.

With all the publicity, hoteliers are led to believe that all their guests need is a mobile phone or wristband to do everything from unlocking guest room doors to ordering cocktails by the pool. This kind of thinking omits two important considerations: There must be security between the key and the lock, and security between the network and the key. This requires that a well-designed secure infrastructure be in place.

Vendor enthusiasm and guest expectations are driving rapid development of secure mobile access. Today it is an emerging technology that will certainly be widely installed in the next few years. For operators to make an informed business decision about mobile access, they need to understand that a viable mobile delivery solution involves several complex processes before a guest opens their door with a smartphone.

Non-business luxury properties may also want to consider the value its guests place on personalised service. For these hotels, the services of a highly trained staff member who greets guests by name in the lobby with their room key, escorts them to their room and unlocks the door, may have more value than mobile access.

In either case, RFID door locks and key cards will simplify and enhance the guest experience, reduce operational expenses while providing a platform for future mobile access implementation.


For those working at any level in hospitality, success is built upon fostering enduring relationships with guests in order to maintain sustained growth and repeat bookings. In strengthening such bonds, the role of technology is a vital factor in promoting guest loyalty.

For hoteliers seeking to enhance a sense of loyalty with their guests, RFID can serve as a primary method of physically demonstrating a property’s commitment of keeping up with shifts in industry threats and trends

In the short term, hotels will use near field RFID technology to enable guests to unlock their room door. In the long term as the guest enters the room they will find their room amenities such as lighting, window shades, room temperature, music and TV. will be set to meet their preferences. Often called "building intelligence," these capabilities deliver a much smarter guest experience.

That same hotel will also run smarter operations with RFID by using the technology to track things like how long it takes the cleaning staff to clean rooms, quickly determining which rooms are ready for guests, what’s been taken from a mini-bar and more. This knowledge will not only help managers make smarter immediate decisions around staffing, guest needs and room re-supply, but over the long term the information can be aggregated to spot opportunities for greater productivity and more efficient operations.

Mobile access will not suit every operation and in establishments that offer a luxury experience it may be seen by the guest as a back-ward step. It is also important that guests are not forced to use mobile access, they need to be given a traditional alternative of going to reception and getting a key card. Batteries go flat, phones are lost or stolen, and networks fail from time to time. You need to have a contingency in place for system failures to prevent guest disruption.

Key Questions to ask your RFID Lock Supplier

  • Do your locks pass all fire regulations and have the CE Mark?
  • What is the length of warranty?
  • Are the locks upgradable for future protocols and technologies?
  • If fitting to existing doors will the new locks cover any unsightly holes?
  • Are the locks Smartphone Ready?
  • What are the on-going costs of operating the lock system?
  • What support will I get?