Through the keyhole

At check-in, guests used to be provided with a simple door key, often attached to a large and cumbersome key ring. Nowadays, however, a great deal of design and technological expertise goes into keeping guests safe. Hotelier Middle East takes a look at some of the latest trends in entry systems

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By  Sarah Gain Published  November 12, 2006

|~|Entry-systems-B.jpg|~||~|The millions of guests that stay in the region’s hotels each year do not give a second thought to the doors they use to get into their rooms, or the locks that secure them. They open the door, close it, and then begin to explore the more exciting features of the guestroom. Hoteliers know, however, that beyond their basic function, doors determine a building’s security, energy efficiency and accessibility. Hotels wishing to provide guests with a safe, comfortable and welcoming environment during their stay need to pay close attention to maintaining their doors and be prepared to replace outmoded or defective door systems with upgraded equipment. As door systems age and get battered from continual use and abuse, defects can develop — hinges become loose, frames get bent, latches don’t snap into place. The flaws in a faulty door can allow leaks that undermine a building’s heating and cooling systems, and can even turn what was supposed to be an accessible entrance into a barrier for someone with physical disabilities. A defective door can also lead to security breaches that enable intruders to break in more easily. “Over the past decade, the need for increased hotel security technology has become apparent,” confirms Lene Engebretsen, international sales and marketing co-ordinator for Timelox. Timelox develops and manufactures electronic locking systems specifically for the international hotel industry. The company provides customised and integrated card locking systems, which are designed to be user-friendly and to meet the particular security and operational needs of large city hotels and resort properties. In the 20 years that Timelox has been supplying the hospitality sector there have been many developments in the design of entry systems, according to Engebretsen. “We have seen dramatic advances in technology, with solutions such as smart card chips, infrared technology and powerful software,” she says. “Sophisticated property management systems have caused hotel door locks to evolve into intricate electronic systems with a wide variety of platforms, capabilities and operational features.” As a result, entry systems providers have responded with increasingly advanced, integrated solutions. The DC-One system from Timelox, for example, is built to meet the requirements of even the largest hotels. The dual card system combines magnetic cards, which are known to be reliable and economical, with the newer and more flexible smart card technology. Central control is possible via an infrared communication that transfers data from door terminal units to a central control station. Some functions include the direct cancellation of any card from any door, remote door unit control, ‘door-ajar’ notification and battery status monitoring. At check-in, a standard magnetic card or smart card is issued. The card contains encrypted information such as hotel identity, time limitations, room number and authorisation for any additional door access, such as to the gym or business lounge. When the guest inserts the card in the door unit, this information is read and processed. “The basic idea of the DC-One system is to enhance the hotel’s security, make the hotel routines easier, and decrease the workload for the hotel staff,” explains Engebretsen. “For housekeeping, the door terminal lets staff know if the door is locked from the inside, and staff cards can be checked to identify which rooms have been cleaned.” Another provider of electronic locking solutions, Onity, has carried out extensive market research in order to create a product that would meet the day-to-day demand of the hospitality sector. By collecting feedback from a broad spectrum of hoteliers, guests and design professionals, the company discovered that the industry wanted lock manufacturers to improve the style and functionality of their designs. “What we learned from the study we conducted is that decision-makers in the hotel industry are [looking for] a lock that improves aesthetics and ease of use, without compromising security,” explains Adam Yapkowitz, Onity’s vice president of business development. “We took that a step further and produced a lock that is not only functional, but technologically advanced and with unsurpassed security.” In response to its findings, Onity developed the Advance locking solution, a modular, two-piece design that minimises hardware on the guestroom door. The system is available in a number of different finishes, with interchangeable handle styles and cover plates, to allow hotels to match the locks to the overall design of the property. The company also employed ergonomics to ensure users would find the design intuitive. A newly patented Groove and Arrow design makes it easier for guests to insert the keycard into the electronic lock. “We found that [in our user testing] the grooved readers and keycards scored 276% higher for inserting the keycard in ‘the correct position the first time’ than those without grooves and arrows,” says Yapkowitz. In addition, with its HT Prox Lock, Onity has taken ease of use one step further, eliminating the need to insert the keycard into the door unit altogether. The company is one of several entry systems manufacturers that have developed new solutions based on radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. “At a time when service demands get higher and higher and hotels need to differentiate through continuous innovation, [RFID technology] offers another way for hoteliers to make an impact on their guests,” Yapkowitz explains. Director of marketing for Saflok, Glenn Peacock, shares this sentiment. He believes that contact-less locks are the future of access control. The company’s new Quantum sectional trim electronic lock uses proximity radio frequency (RF) technology so that there is no contact between the lock reader and the keycard — a fact that minimises wear and tear and improves the lifespan of the product. “Proximity technology, or contact-less technology, is growing in popularity in this region, and while attractive design is important — especially in today’s market, where the designer and architect have a greater influence on the purchasing decision — even more important is to give the market a product that is architecturally sound and well engineered,” Peacock says. According to VingCard, flexibility in the design of the RFID device offers hotels the opportunity to differentiate their brand and enhance guest service levels. The company’s Signature RFID system is an open-platform RFID lock that is compatible with all the main RFID ISO standards. Because Signature RFID is compatible with a number of different proximity carriers, hotels can provide more personalised guest service by customising its RFID carriers to differentiate between guests. VingCard’s customisable carriers include low-cost guest keycards, long-lasting staff keycards, key fobs and wristbands. “Resorts that offer all-inclusive packages can offer convenient RFID wristbands for guests. This enables guests to walk around the pool, golf course, spa, gift shops and so forth, and purchase goods and services without having to carry the room keycard,” explains Pascal Metivier, president of VingCard’s parent company, Assa Abloy Hospitality, for EMEA and Latin America. “By colour-coding the wristbands, resorts can easily identify between groups, VIPs and first-time guests. Peripheral hotel systems, such as point-of-sale and property-management solutions, also can be integrated with the RFID wristband system to record transactions,” he adds. Due to a collaboration with Royal Philips Electronics, the Signature RFID system also uses the Near Field Communication (NFC) — a short range, secure wireless technology that is starting to be used by mobile phone manufacturers, credit-card companies and public transport operators for contact-less transactions such as secure payment and ticketing. In fact, analysts at ABI Research predict that by 2010, 50% of cell handsets in the world will be equipped with NFC chips, including some of the most popular brands, including Nokia, Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson. Together VingCard and Philips have created a way for guests to use their personal cell phone for guestroom access. A similar solution has also been developed so that hotel staff and security personnel can use cellular technology to access back-of-house and other private areas. “Most people carry their mobile phone with them wherever they go, so the possibility to use the phone to conduct daily transactions adds great value for consumers,” says Dominique Brule, segment marketing manager, mobile communications, Philips Semiconductors. “We believe that in the very near future, hotel guests and staff will be able to use their NFC-ready cell phones as RFID keycards, and that this will become the preferred way to access guestrooms and other secure areas,” Brule says. “Hotels can send the booking confirmation number, room number and an encrypted room key to their guests via the Short Message System (SMS). These [text messages] can either be sent at the front desk when the guest arrives or prior to their arrival to avoid check-in lines.”||**||

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