How Apple’s newest features will affect hotel check-in

Apple’s announcement last month that it would implement the storage of hotel keys in its Wallet application is a significant step toward simplifying the mobile check-in process for guests.

Significant, but not exhaustive – it’s important to note that issuing digital keys is only one step of the complex process that allows guests to bypass the front desk. Apple’s announcement certainly does not spell the end of the hotel app as we know it.

Coming this fall as part of the iOS 15 update, Apple Wallet will soon use the same underlying NFC technology as Apple Pay to allow guests to access their hotel rooms. It will simplify the process of issuing a digital room key for hoteliers and reduce implementation time and hardware costs for owners looking to allow digital room access.

Using NFC, the most secure and innovative digital communication tool available today, guests will no longer have to download an app to receive their hotel key – instead it can be issued via email or SMS. And, on the other end when they arrive at their room, guests will not be required to open an app or even unlock their phone to gain access – their locked (or even dead) phone will essentially replicate an RFID keycard.

It’s a big step toward streamlining a process that has, until this point, prevented many guests from using their phone as a digital room key. But, Wallet only solves one segment of the end-to-end operation required to get a guest checked in and room access issued. The bigger issue is connecting identity with access, which requires many more steps beyond issuing a key.

Evaluating all the steps required, including all the systems that need to communicate with one another, will help hoteliers better understand the hurdles they still face in moving to a fully digital check-in process.

Not a one-stop solution

After Apple’s announcement at its Worldwide Developers Conference on June 7, some pundits declared Wallet’s new functionality would lead to the demise of the hotel mobile app. The thinking was that digital room keys are the primary reason for guests to download a hotel app and, without the need to access their key through an app, there would be little reason for guests to download.

This prediction is flawed for the following reasons:

First, as mentioned above, issuing a room key is only part of the check-in process. Perhaps the most important parts of the process are verifying guest ID and collecting payment. Apple Wallet will simplify issuing room access, but without other digital tools, guests will still need to stop by the front desk to verify their identification and submit a form of payment. Some mobile apps and in-lobby kiosks can handle all three parts of the process, so even with Wallet storing the hotel key, hoteliers will still need to rely on other technologies and processes to completely digitize check-in.

Second, hotel apps provide many more features and functionalities than simply storing the room key – they are often used as revenue generators for the hotel. Hotel apps can act as a digital concierge, providing guests with all the information they need to know about the property and the surrounding area. They can allow guests to order room service, communicate with staff to request more towels and even allow the guest to control their in-room lighting and entertainment. And hotels are increasingly using their app for innovative revenue-generating functions, such as offering room upgrades, early check-in and late checkout.

Some might argue that a web-based check-in solution would be a preferable way to allow guests to check in and add a method of payment in a web form versus an app. But there are severe drawbacks here, such as the always risky “card not present” credit card transaction.

For all of the above reasons, hotel apps will continue to be a popular way for hotels to communicate with their guests, particularly frequent visitors.

Safety and security are paramount

To illustrate more clearly how mobile keys are only part of the overall digital check-in experience, consider how airlines and airports have evolved the process of checking guests in digitally and providing plane access. Airlines have adopted Apple Wallet and travelers can store their boarding passes on their phone today. But travelers still must go through security and present their driver’s license or passport to verify ID – most often to a live person – along with showing their boarding pass.

Currently, most hotels are still defaulting to human ID verification. But, like CLEAR at the airport, new technology is available to securely automate this process through the use of eye- and face-scanning mechanics.

In the end, even with an easy-to-use mobile key, hoteliers still must be primarily focused on connecting identity with access. Technology is here to help, and continued improvements like Apple’s newest features will drive our industry toward innovation, with the ultimate goal of providing guests with a safe and seamless user experience.

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