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Unlocking the evolution of hotel security: from metal keys to electronic solutions

Unlocking the evolution of hotel security: from metal keys to electronic solutions
Lucija Vulić

Welcome to a journey through time and technology, where we explore the fascinating evolution of hotel security and access control solutions. Imagine arriving at a hotel decades ago, greeted by the clunky metal keys dangling from a cumbersome keychain. While these keys served their purpose, they posed significant challenges for both guests and hoteliers. Security concerns and the inconvenience of using metal keys were prevalent issues.

From metal keys to modern cards 

In 1974, the course of hotel security changed when lock maker Tor Sørnes was inspired to invent a better door opening system after hearing about a woman attacked by an intruder in her hotel room. This led to the introduction of VingCard in 1976, the world's first recordable keycard door lock. The recordable keycard operated on a simple yet innovative principle: instead of relying on physical keys or fixed magnetic codes, it utilized programmable technology embedded within the keycard itself. Hotel staff could program each keycard with a unique digital code that corresponded to a specific guest room. When a guest inserted the keycard into the door lock, the lock's sensor would read the coded information stored on the card and grant access to the corresponding room. The 32 holes in the key gave 4.2 billion combinations. Around the same time, Bjørn Lyng constructed the world's first electronic in-room safe, Elsafe. These innovations laid the foundation for a new era of hotel security, emphasizing guest safety and convenience.

In the 1980s, the hospitality industry witnessed a significant shift from punch cards to magstripe cards, which are still prevalent in many hotels today. Originally designed for data storage rather than door lock operation, magstripe cards revolutionized hotel security and guest convenience. Magstripe cards offered a more modern alternative to punch cards, boasting easy deactivation or replacement at a lower cost than traditional keys. This technology maintained security standards while prioritizing guest convenience. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, magstripe-locks gained popularity due to their perceived higher security ratings. However, the vulnerability of magstripe cards became evident when hackers exploited loopholes to gain unauthorized room access, transfer loyalty card points, and engage in other forms of theft. Despite these security flaws, many U.S. hotels still rely on magstripe door locks, with some locks exceeding their expected 20-year lifespan and experiencing mechanical or technical failures.

As a result, approximately one in five magstripe cards become demagnetized and fail, causing inconvenience for hotel guests who must return to the front desk to address the issue. This highlights the pressing need for hospitality solutions that prioritize hotel security and guest satisfaction, particularly in the realm of electronic locks.

During the 2000s, hotels embraced Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) keycards as a solution to address the demagnetization issues associated with magstripe cards. These keycards feature a small chip that communicates with the lock upon contact, providing enhanced security and convenience for both hotels and guests. Today, RFID technology stands as the leading method for upgraded room access in the hospitality industry. Beyond simply unlocking doors, RFID keycards offer a myriad of benefits, including facilitating cashless vending and granting access to reserved guest areas like fitness centers and lounges. One notable advantage of RFID technology is its short read-range, which poses a challenge for potential hackers. To access any information stored on the RFID chip, a hacker would need to be in close proximity to the guest, typically tapping the card on a reader or NFC device. While instances of successful hacking do occur, RFID key technology is designed with scalable security measures in mind.

Personal details are typically not stored on the RFID chip itself, mitigating the risk of data breaches. Instead, such information is often stored on a separate, secured system. Additionally, RFID key technology incorporates globally trusted countermeasures such as mutual authentication, message authentication, and data encryption to further safeguard guest information and maintain a high level of hotel security. 

Security Perspective: RFID cards provided a notable improvement in security compared to traditional keys. The encrypted data stored on the cards made them difficult to duplicate, reducing the risk of unauthorized access. Additionally, lost or stolen cards could be quickly deactivated, mitigating the threat of intrusions.

Future of hotel security

Electronic keys, also known as mobile keys or digital keys, represent the latest evolution in hotel key technology. These keys utilize digital codes or signals to grant access to hotel rooms, offering unparalleled convenience and security for guests and hotel staff alike. Whether through mobile apps, virtual keys, or wearable devices, guests now have multiple options for accessing their rooms with ease.

Advantages of Electronic Keys:

Convenience: Say goodbye to the hassle of carrying physical keys or cards. With electronic keys stored on smartphones or wearable devices, guests can enjoy a seamless access experience.
Enhanced Security: Encryption and authentication protocols ensure that electronic keys remain secure and resistant to tampering or duplication.
Contactless Access: In an era dominated by hygiene concerns, electronic keys offer a safe and hygienic alternative to traditional keycards, promoting a worry-free stay for guests.
Customization: Hoteliers have greater flexibility in managing guest access, with the ability to revoke or modify digital keys as needed, enhancing security and efficiency.

As we look ahead to the future, electronic keys are expected to become even more dominant in the hospitality industry. Integrations with artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices may enable a lot of modern features such as voice-activated room access and personalized recommendations based on guest preferences.

Experience the future of hotel security with electronic keys. Contact us today to learn more about our hospitality solutions and elevate your guest experience to new heights. Your safety and comfort are our top priorities.