Thursday, 13 August 2015

Why hotels don't like numberpads

In the last two weeks blog posts we discussed some of the issues that hotels had with our digital check-in product when we first took it to market in mid 2011. This week we're going to discuss the issue that took us the most time to develop - that is removing the numberpad from smartlocks.

As we've mentioned before, digital check-in is currently only available in around 100 hotels across the planet (mid 2015). When we started building our product 4 years ago, it wasn't available in any hotels, yet survey after survey from leading travel brands (from about 2008) showed that on average around three quarters of guests surveyed wanted it.

These two reasons combined with the fact that we knew digital check-in is more convenient, more secure, and can save hotels tens of thousands of dollars a year, whilst offering a better service, and even increase hotel revenues, kept us motivated. The final motivation for us, other than we wanted digital check-in ourselves, was lock manufacturers were not delivering the digital check-in product.

We had no idea at the time why lock manufacturers (or anyone else) were not delivering the product, but we soon found out why (but we'll go into that in more detail later!).

Only in the last 6 months or so have all of our expectations we had about digital check-in in 2011 started to materialize. Recently Hilton Hotels, Starwood and Accor hotels have announced billion dollar plans to begin roll-out mobile check-in in all of their properties in the next couple of years. Starwood have already installed digital check-in in over 20 hotels in US and Europe.

And as we mentioned in a previous post, just recently PWC published a report titled, 'Hospitality Directions'  where they predicted that by 2017 at least two thirds of hotels on the planet will allow mobile check-in. With around 16 million hotel rooms on the planet, that means that leading authorities are predicting that around 10-11 million digital check-in units (hardware and software/apps) will soon be rolled out across the globe (if you ask google now you will get an answer of between 13 million to 17.5 million - see this article for more)

So having said all that, you can see now why we were motivated in early 2012 to satisfy the hotels concerns they had with the smart locks in our system having numberpads.

In our first iteration of our digital check-in product we were providing a time-sensitive 6 digit PIN in the smartphone app (and in a text and email), which the guest would enter on a numberpad to unlock their doors. At the end of the booking, the PIN would no longer work. The hotels told us they didn't like numberpads on locks to open doors for the following reasons;

1. Security concerns - hotels were worried that 'unscrupulous people' would look over guests shoulders in narrow hotel hallways and see them punching in their time-sensitive PIN to open the door, and then use that PIN to break into the rooms and steal guests stuff and attack them. As you know with ATM's and people entering their PIN, there is usually a globally accepted 'privacy distance' of around a metre or two between the person using the machine and those waiting behind. The hotels were concerned that in narrow hotel hallways, a 'privacy distance' could not apply.  Of course, there is a second authentication method with ATM's, and that is the bank card, which we weren't offering then either. The hotels were also concerned with numberpads on street entrances (for example they were worried people could look down on the guest from a building above with binoculars and see them enter their code, and then use it to break-in).


What is the privacy distance in this ATM line?
Then the hotels were also concerned with other security issues such as fingerprint powder dusting (like police use) to learn someone's access code, and hacking. We assured the hotels that the baseline technology used in our system called One Time Password (OTP) was developed by banks over 15 years ago, with secure encryption, and banks and other lock manufacturers selling versions of the technology (but without digital check-in) had never had any issues of hacking.

2. Concerns about guests adopting PIN's as keys
The hotels told us they were concerned that guests would constantly lose or forget their PIN's, and they would have to always go back to the reception desk to get a new one generated. The hotels weren't convinced that this issue is solved by the guest (or the hotel staff at check-in) writing the PIN down on the hotel business card, and that it is stored inside the app, and that the PIN was also on the check-in/booking confirmation email(which can be printed and carried by guest). And finally when we told the hotels that guests could change the PIN to a 4-6 digit PIN of their own choosing (such as their birthdate) when they first entered the random generated PIN on the numberpad, they still were not convinced that guest lockouts(and resulting negative publicity) would not be a problem.

3. Concerns about image/perceptions of numberpads and the concept of numberpads
The hotels told us that they didn't think a numberpad on a lock was the right image for their hotels. The numberpad, they told us, was commonly associated with banks, safes and prisons, and they thought it sent out the wrong message to guests. Ironically, they thought guests wouldn't stay at their hotel if it appeared on the surface that their hotel was like a bank or a prison (commonly associated with being secure).

4. Concerns about  design of the numberpads
Not only did the hotels not like the concept of numberpads, they did not like the design of the two numberpad smartlocks we were interfacing too. They told us the keypad designs looked like public telephones from the 1950's, and again this was not the image they wanted associated with their hotel. If a guest can use technology from the twenty teens to smartphone self check-in, then having to enter a PIN into a piece of hardware on the door that looked like it was from the nineteen fifties was not a good image.

5. Concerns with guests having to change current behaviors
The hotels told us that asking guests to change from using keycards and metal keys to only PIN's, would cause issues. "Guests would feel naked, by not being able to carry something with them when they left their rooms", they told us.





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