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Hotel Employs RFID to Woo Guests

Starwood Hotels and Resorts offers an automatic check-in program, designed to appeal to tech-savvy travelers.
By Logan Kugler
May 23, 2011—Generation Y, Millennials, Echo Boomers—whatever you call the approximately 70 million Americans born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, they're a hip group at home and in love with technology. They're also a large emerging market on which Starwood Hotels and Resorts has set its sights. To that end, since 2008, Starwood has opened nearly 50 Aloft hotels worldwide that feature modern designs and promote social atmospheres. And to appeal to tech-savvy travelers, the hotel chain is rolling out an automatic check-in program, courtesy of radio frequency identification.

"We've positioned the Aloft brand as tech-savvy," says Brian McGuinness, Starwood's senior VP of specialty select brands, "and the early adopter is really the target customer we're going for—someone with that mindset of trying new things."

Each day, hotel associates check in arriving guests from a central PC, and send a welcome message to each visitor's mobile device along with that person's room number.

The first automatic check-in program, which works in conjunction with an RFID access-control system, was introduced in 2008 at the Aloft Lexington hotel, located in Lexington, Mass. Gen Y'ers and others who are members of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program no longer need wait in line to check in, as their SPG member card serves double-duty as a contactless room "key." Guests receive a text message on their mobile device containing their room number, along with information regarding when that room will be available. Upon arriving at the hotel, visitors can then go directly to their room and gain entry using their RFID-enabled member card.

Doors can be unlocked in microseconds, after information stored in a chip on a keycard is verified.
The Smart Check-In program, from VingCard Elsafe—a hospitality and security provider and part of the Assa Abloy Group—has been working well, McGuinness says. But Starwood is taking a methodical approach to expanding the service—both to ensure there aren't any technology glitches that may lead to guest dissatisfaction, and to monitor guest adoption and acceptance of the technology. "We really need to have this work seamlessly," he states, explaining that the rollout is proceeding at a relatively slow pace to ensure a high success rate. To date, the RFID system has been put in place at five other hotels: Aloft Harlem and Aloft Brooklyn, in New York; Aloft Dallas Downtown, in Texas; Aloft Jacksonville Tapestry Park, in Florida; and Aloft Brussels, in Belgium. Starwood plans to expand the program first to all Aloft hotels worldwide, and then to its Element hotels and other properties.

Innovative Strategy
Starwood's interest in RFID began in 2006, when hotel management was deciding whether a contactless access-control system for guest rooms was a good fit for the Aloft brand, and whether VingCard was the best vendor to provide such a solution. The technology was just being introduced in the hotel industry, and Starwood opted to standardize on a VingCard Signature mag-stripe lock set that could be easily upgraded as new technologies and protocols were developed. "Although Smart Check-In was not development at that time," McGuinness says, "we thought the contactless RFID locks would be a strategic next step for us."
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