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Hotel Security: Minimized Yet Fortified

Hotel security systems are starting to fit into the palms of guests and managers, as hotel security becomes more linked with technology and follows the general trend for increasingly personalized hi-tech devices. This design allows hotel staff to roam freely away from the front desk while guests head straight to their rooms. It enables managers to reallocate personnel and easily keep track of every door on the property. In this vision for hotel security, knowledge is power, and technology is delivering it.

Increasingly, hotel security is ruled over by technology, whether it is for personal property accommodations, room access, property surveillance, or data security. On one hand, this trend is erasing visible security, turning traditionally clunky door locks into sleek hi-tech pads, or even taking the front desk out of the equation. However, less visible hotel security systems by no means implies that it is less present. On the other, digitizing more and more aspects of hotel security allows greater control by hoteliers, who instantly receive important information and therefore better react to risks. One of the keys to this trend is the growing dominance of handheld devices, putting multiple management facets in the hands of the hotelier. By the same token, hotel guests can stay more connected, and have more control over their stay. As is the general trend in hospitality, hi-tech personalization is on the rise in security as well.

The tech-friendly hotel safe

While hotel security is increasingly discrete, there is still a need for physical safes in hotel rooms, and contrary to the tech trend towards the more miniscule, they must be big enough to hold all the personal devices with which one might travel. Guests’ valuables are evolving from small pieces like cash and jewelry to personal technology like laptops and smartpads. Because of this evolution in guest behavior, safes are transforming to fit the new trend, while still maintaining the open space of the hotel room design. One company that is developing solutions for the new age of safes is the Italian CISA brand. It was already revolutionizing the hotel safe in 2003 with Digit Plus, large enough for a laptop and with an outlet for recharging. Norwegian VingCard Elsafe joined the movement towards the tech-friendly safe in 2010 by adding internal power outlet options in the Zenith II, Infinity II and Sentinel II by Elsafe. The Xtra II On-wall safe, as its name suggests, is position oned the wall to maximize room space, while still accommodating a laptop computer. However, a necessarily larger size does not mean that these designs are unattractive. Designs are being integrated into walls, floors, and furniture to ensure a sleek design, and maintain the trend towards discretion.

Disappearing lock hardware

The hotel room lock is also doing a disappearing act, thanks to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). This technology allows the guest to use a card instead of a traditional key. However, these locks do not read a magnetic strip, a widely employed technology, but allow contactless room access. Improving on this technology, readers are being hidden in the door or stylized panels in order to streamline hotel design. In some cases, the hi-tech readers offer additional features to improve on the hotel experience.


One player in RFID security is Kaba, specializing in integrating security and organization solutions. It has most recently announced a new Wi-Fi communications backbone for online hotel locks, Saflok, which increases security and convenience for guests. This enables web-based monitoring of guest locks and keys, that continually communicate their status across an online network monitoring the guestroom doors, back-of-the-house doors, including ballrooms, meeting rooms, service closets, employee entrances, mechanical areas, and storerooms for total property security.  «Many older hotels have unique floor plans and other constraints that make it difficult to implement networked electronic locks,» says Kerry Hirschy, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Kaba Lodging. «Kaba’s new Wi-Fi communication backbone is an ideal, cost effective solution for these and many other properties where this was impossible in the past.»

VingCard Elsafe began the movement towards minimizing visible lock hardware via the introduction of its Signature modular locking system, which was subsequently adopted by many players in the market. Essence by VingCard locking system goes a step further and does away entirely with the visible lock by actually encasing all electronic components within the door itself. This is one of VingCard Elsafe’s most advanced contactless locking solutions, including Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Near Field Communication (NFC) compatible locking technologies. More recently, the company introduced the Allure by VingCard RFID lock system. This system has continued the hardware-free design, via a futuristic signage panel that adds a host of additional benefits and functionality to the locking system. This panel includes a touch doorbell, displays the room number, and notifies the guest when the door has been unlocked.  It provides more features than any other electronic locking system via its Ethernet connection. These include a higher degree of flexibility in design, as well as the ability to add guest-activated features such as «Do Not Disturb (DND) and «Make Up Room» (MUR) notifications to hotel staff. This is accomplished through an interactive touch panel located inside the room. An LED light on the door lock alerts staff of the request. «Allure by VingCard is the next generation of hotel design and technology», says Tim Shea, president of ASSA ABLOY Hospitality, parent company of VingCard Elsafe. «Guests are becoming accustomed to visual readability, ease of use, and touch panel operation when it comes to their devices. Allure combines all of these features, bringing hotels the most advanced concept in door locks on the market.»

Marriott Brooklyn Fairfield pioneered VingCard Elsafe RFID locking systems in November 2013 as one among the first establishments to integrate the contactless Signature RFID locks from VingCard Elsafe. The RFID locks were also integrated with the complementary VISION software which allows hotel staff to control access over particular areas of the property, as in who may access these areas and when. «First and foremost is the ease of use - it’s so much quicker and simpler for a guest to just hold the RFID card near the reader than it is to insert a keycard”, explains Marc Freud, managing principal of Troutbrook Co., owner of the Marriott Brooklyn Fairfield, of the decision to go with this locking system. He continues, “RFID cards don’t have misreads like magstripe cards sometimes do», Freud says. «And with so many travelers carrying mobile phones in their pockets these days, magstripe cards are often demagnetized by the phones, which is a cause of frustration for guests and hotel staff alike”. In terms of the VISION software, Freud notes that managers have considerably more control over the security situation via the ability to manage access privileges from a central computer. VISION also includes an event log so managers can view the previous 600 access attempts on any particular hotel lock, giving them important information in the event of a guest dispute.

In addition to success for VingCard Elsafe’s product, the fitting of contactless locks in this property also signals an upcoming trend in contactless locking systems. Namely, these readers are designed to be easily adapted to Near Field Communication (NFC) technology that will allow travelers to use their mobile devices as room keys. Allegion has also initiated contactless hotel security via Italian lock manufacturer CISA. In particular, CISA eSIGNO, the latest addition to the brand, allows contactless access. CISA has long been in the business of hotel security, since its establishment in 1926. It produced and patented the first electrically controlled lock, and is also the first brand in the world to develop smartcard locks. However, noting the same inconveniences of magstrip smartcards, CISA eSIGNO uses the Near Field Communication technology. In addition, it includes an LED “Do not disturb” signal advising staff whether guests are present in their rooms. Its wireless technology eliminates complicated installation as well. In conjunction with the company’s Smart Software, the lock may also managed from a terminal to control who may access that room, or public area.

Handheld Acess

Mr. Shea foresees the rise of not only doing away with hotel keys, but even eliminating cards, with the use of smartphones to open hotel doors. This is made possible by Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, which already exists on a number of smartphone models currently on the market. NFC allows users to send and receive data instantly and securely over short distances. The process will mean that a guest will receive digital access signals on their mobile device. The guest may then simply hold up his or her device near the NFC signal reader, making check-in truly mobile, and allowing hotels to reallocate employee resources to areas other than the front desk in order to better serve guests during their stay. This system will be linked by a centralized system preventing unauthorized use of lost or stolen mobile devices to access rooms by allowing hotel managers to instantly and remotely manage access rights. The software solutions can also automatically notify managers via text message or email in the event of a security situation, such as a door left ajar or unauthorized access attempts.

French OpenWays is making these smartlocks a reality, via OKIDOKEYS smart locks. This system completely bypasses the traditional check in/check out process. Upon arriving at an establishment, guests can go straight to their rooms and securely open the door with their mobile phone, including non-smartphones with any mobile carrier worldwide. This is enabled by Crypto Acoustic Credential (CAC), which produces a unique acoustic key to open the door, and sends that information to a guest via text messaging. Fraudulent recording of the key will be made inefficient to open a door. Personality Hotels is fitting this technology in two San Francisco establishments, the Hotel Diva and Hotel Union Square. When a reservation is made, guests have the option to sign up for Mobile Key by OpenWays, after which, guests receive details of their room number on the Personality Hotels smartphone app or via text message. «Our customers demand high levels of service, and they want something a bit different when they stay with us», explains Yvonne Lembi-Detert, Personality Hotels President and CEO. «We want our guests to say ‘wow’ from the moment they choose to stay with us to long after their departure.”

With great power comes great responsibility, and security product companies must protect their locks and management systems to make sure that the information always remains in the proper hands. This is a potential weakness to be watched as hi-tech locks become more popular on the market. In the meantime, the products to keep both guests and hoteliers safe are also empowering them by providing them with the information to take greater control over their stay or business as the case may be.
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