Embassy Suites. DoubleTree. Hampton Inn. They’re all brands underneath the Hilton hotel umbrella. And soon, their rooms will unlock via your iPhone or Android device.
Starting this year, 4,000 Hilton hotels worldwide will allow you to check in and out, and even upgrade your room, via an app–meaning the only time you have to go to the front desk and see a human is to get your key. And in 2015, Hilton will unroll the option to unlock your room’s door with your phone (presumably, via Bluetooth), removing any lingering reason you might have to communicate with a flesh and blood member of the hotel staff, beyond, maybe, getting more towels.
Keyless hotels are on trend, as Starwood’s Aloft recently launched a similar pilot program at a few locations. And no doubt, for anyone who has traveled at strange hours, or waited in a particularly long line to check into their reserved room, the appification of the hotel experience may seem to be a godsend. But a great hotel–even a great hotel you get on a budget–is about more than the room. It’s a carefully crafted experience, from the room right down to the human touches: the smile at check-in, the helpfulness of a concierge, the offering of a piece of fruit, glass of wine, or a cookie.
I’ll never forget checking into Shibuya’s beloved Cerulean Tower, and being offered a hot, damp towel–a simple luxury you get at many Japanese restaurants, sure–but the perfect little antidote to spending a day and a half on planes and buses. I remember that cheap steamed towel I was handed just as fondly as my room’s panoramic views, the robo-toilet, and the hotel bar’s discreet, off-the-menu bottle service.
Yes, we can automate a lot of the hospitality industry. But do we want to? Hilton, and all the other hotel companies with an eye on automation, need to proceed carefully. They’ll need to resist the urge to use these phone check-in services to save money on staff. Instead, they should reassign their existing worker pool, now less encumbered by day-to-day logistics, and create more of those human-centric “towel” experiences. Because if I have the convenience of keyless entry and a hotel staff that’s suddenly worried about my needs beyond my keys, I have a truly great hotel experience.
[Hat tip: Engadget]