Smartphones Replace Room Keys at Starwood Hotels

Travelers staying at select Starwood Hotels and Resorts will soon be able to unlock their hotel rooms with their smartphones.

The Aloft Harlem in New York and Aloft Cupertino in California will be the first to try the new technology, powered by Assa Abloy, a lock company in Sweden. The pilot program will begin within the next 60 days, says Brian McGuinness, senior vice president of Starwood's Specialty Select brands. If it goes well, guests will see the new technology roll out at three Starwood brands, Aloft, Element and W Hotels, by 2015.

"In a world where digital tech is only getting smaller, cheaper, more ubiquitous, we need to see how tech is changing what our guests want -- and keep pace," Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen said during a presentation at the American Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles.

Guests will first check in through their smartphones using Starwood's mobile app. They will then receive a text message with their room number and the virtual key so they can bypass the front desk. The technology operates through Bluetooth on any iPhone 4s or above and the Android 4.3 or newer.

"It fundamentally changes the hotel business," McGuinness says. "It changes the job of the front desk. The front desk becomes the concierge desk."

Other hotel companies have experimented with letting people check in through their mobile phones. For instance, members of Marriott's Rewards program can check in through their mobile phones at 350 of its Marriott Hotels. They then pick up their key at a desk. Marriott will expand that program to 150 more hotels.

At Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts, guests can check in through their smartphones with Anywhere Check In. They then scan in their check-in code at a kiosk to retrieve their keys, bypassing the front desk.

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