The Future of Hotel Security

Posted Oct 29th 2010 09:00 AMUpdated Feb 16th 2011 12:09 AM



Glenn Hotel

Technology is opening new doors to hotel safety, and the way we navigate hotels is set to change in the blink of an eye. Or the swipe of a cellphone. Or the print of a finger. With futuristic systems like scent and iris scanners and digital facial-recognition, hotel security is being taken to the next level.

Those plastic key cards that once seemed so innovative will soon go the way of the actual key. The new thing is contact-less Smartcards and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) cards that need just be waved to allow room access. Much like the cruise world's one card system, these cards may soon make hotel stays easier by allowing guests to pay for services, as well as to check-in and check-out, through a single device. Travelers may even be able to save preferences on the cards, from pillow type to floor choice. RFID cards are already in use at New York's Plaza Hotel, and Starwood Hotels are considering introducing them into their hip Aloft and Element properties.

But travelers worried they will constantly have to traipse back to reception every time they lose their card need not despair. Security systems in some hotels do away with cards altogether. "In addition to Radio Frequency Identification, there are also systems that use a smartphone, such as an iPhone," says Frank Wolfe, CEO of Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals. "When a guest checks into a hotel and provides their phone number, they get an encrypted sound code via text message." You can then play back the code to unlock your room door.

Yet more card-free security systems are on the way. They may still be minor blips on the greater hotel horizon, but biometric systems that seem right out of Mission Impossible have been introduced in the U.S. If you want to get into your room at New York's SoHo Loft, you're going to have to lift a finger. The seven-room hotel has a fingerprint entry system. Guests touch the door pad then enter a code for extra security. Kimpton's 190-room Nine Zero Hotel in Boston was the first hotel to install a biometric iris scanner back in 2004, but only guests of the 1,065-square-foot Cloud Nine penthouse suite have to bat their eyelashes. The uses for biometrics don't have to stop at the guestroom door, either. The Nine Zero also uses the technology to make the property safer all round, as it has installed the LG IrisAccess 3000 at the employee and delivery entries to the hotel, as well, meaning that non-staff members and intruders can't access the property.

Systems that track the other qualities that make each human unique are in development as well. Movement-activated video-capture systems were showcased in New Zealand in September 2010. Researchers are at work on devices capable of recognizing an individual's gait or walk and even their DNA. Frank Wolfe says, "If you want to go 'way out there', there are some systems being explored that can allegedly sniff someone, and also systems that can recognize the pattern of blood veins on a human being which are apparently unique to the individual," says Wolfe. Quite common in Japan, vascular-recognition systems such as this are still "several years off," according to Wolfe. "I think that you will begin to see more hotels going to RFID and smartphone entry before using biosystem recognition," says Wolfe. "These systems are expensive, and there are many consumers who just don't want this information stored somewhere -- for a variety of reasons."

Many industry watchers are keeping an eye on Houston's largest hotel, the vast 1,200-room Hilton Americas–Houston. The hotel has a facial recognition system that can identify and track guests, employees, and even suitcases. With 700 employees and an annual $16 million payroll, the system offers benefits such as employee time-theft monitoring and prevention for the hotel. But travelers aren't that concerned about employees taking an extra cigarette break. What it means for you is that the system includes alerts if unwanted people are on the property and a response time of mere seconds if there's an incident. Customer service is heightened as well: Returning guests will be recognized and greeted by name. And with 1,200 rooms worth of luggage in transit, the system makes it a lot easier to find lost or misdirected bags.

While these may seem like great improvements to the hotel experience, not everyone wants to be on-camera, all the time. With concerns about "snooping" and a Truman Show-like lack of privacy, might guests feel that systems such as this are too intrusive in our hotels? "It really depends on the guests' backgrounds," Wolfe points out. "For example, London has been using CCTV for a long time, and lots of public places are already using similar technology." And street-view footage is also readily available online. "Google and Microsoft Map Technology have already made us aware that we can be videoed in our own yard or street," he points out. "I think that eventually new security measures will become such a part of our everyday lives that they will become the norm."

But Wolfe feels that in addition to the biometrics and high-tech methods currently being deployed, one of the greatest security measures of late is actually low tech -- it's the staff in the hotel, and it's your fellow traveler. "Hospitality all over the world has become more aware of past vulnerabilities that they might have had and have closed these holes by more in-depth training and awareness of guests and staff," he says. "In today's society, all travelers are becoming interdependent on each other for safety and security."

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it is good article.I agree with your points.Thank you.

February 17 2014 at 10:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Philip Farina, CPP - Travel & Hotel Security Expert

While the replacing of front desk areas and staff with Kiosks or giving the guest the opportunity to check-in and open their doors with their cellphone may be a selling point and may bring a new and unique amenity that adds some level of convenience to the hotel property,

Some factors to consider are:

1. Customer Service - Many opportunities for "great" customer service are lost if guest and employee interaction is diminished. In many cases, the front desk staff give the first impression that a guest experiences. This first "experience" can be crucial for referring the guest to other property amenities, i.e. spa, restaurants, lounge, pool, attractions, etc. Often, the front desk staff are acting as the concierge and resolvers of guest issues.

2. Availability and Compatibility - For cellphone locks, there is an expectation and assumption that ALL guests will own a device capable of utilizing the hotels locking system's software application. Devices and their capabilities vary from one unit to the next. Will additional staff time be spent on assisting guests who cannot access their rooms? How long will the guest have to wait to get back into their room, into pool and recreation areas, etc.?

3. Security and Safety - If a guest no longer has to check in, how will the hotel truly know who is staying on the property? Will a hotel employee be able to identify the guest who checked into that room if a crime occurs? Could the room be used for prostitution? Hazardous Drug Lab or Sales? Terrorism-related? Given the ease at cloning a phone, how safe will the guests feel?

Philip Farina, CPP
Farina and Associates, Ltd.

November 18 2010 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Doesn't that remind you the days of communist USSR, but now even worse....????

November 04 2010 at 6:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Already used the RFID card system Hilton's testing back in April at a Hampton Inn on the north side of El Paso, though it would have been nice if the desk had mentioned the system was in place, since I spent about 15 seconds trying to figure out where the slot to slide the card was located on the door.

The only downside I can see is if someone gets access to an activated card, they can just go down a hallway brushing the card past doorways, waiting to see if the RF frequency will unlock one of the doors, as opposed to the more obvious work of actually having to insert the card into the door slot to get it to work.

November 04 2010 at 1:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Some of these scans are too invasive and without even offering a security benefit over less invasive technology. I've been aware of invasive technology for a long time, and I'm not about to get used to it. Watch out America, drones are being deployed by our sick govt that may be using technology that can see through your walls.

November 03 2010 at 10:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How dumb.

November 03 2010 at 10:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As long as hotel staff are paid near minimum wage to do more work than the managers who get paid four times as much, maybe they'll start caring. I stay in places that take care of employees, because happy employees provide better service. End of story.

November 03 2010 at 8:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply