Siegel Sez

June 18, 2021

Have you ever found yourself in excruciating anticipation because you’re so eager to share something? That is what the last 24 hours have been for me. Last week was our Executive Vendor Summit with a crowd of 88 from the vendor community, a half dozen or so CIOs from the hotel world, the leaders of HTNG, HFTP and HSMAI and some amazing speakers and staff for a crowd of 103 attendees. It was amazing. During our planning for EVS, I had this creative idea for our first-night ice breaker and even though my team thought I was nuts, I said we could pull this off. I know the vendors for the hotel industry are a somewhat adventurous group. Stop reading for the next 2 minutes and 29 seconds and watch what could best be called a very embarrassing video and then come back to this Siegel Sez. Ready? Click here.

I hope you enjoyed the video and smiled while also in bewilderment at what they did. When we planned the EVS back in February we rolled the dice that June 9th would work. I have always said I would rather be lucky than smart, and luck was on our side to have a crowd like we had in Nashville last week. A big shoutout to the Loews Vanderbilt for doing an amazing job as our host. Make sure you receive our next issue of Hospitality Upgrade (to subscribe) to read the EVS review and see the amazing and often creative pictures from this very special event. It was a great crowd and I know the Nashville Humane Association was very thankful that those in the hotel industry are such generous souls. The two words we kept hearing over and over were welcome back. We were glad to be back!

I had to laugh at Doug Rice’s comment early in his Definitely Doug column that something he wrote about 17 days ago is now outdated. I guess when it comes to Apple, you can never be sure what is next. Doug’s column is definitely a great read.

I will see you at the end with this week’s attempt at you know what. For those who have followed my horse exploits, and it is amazing how many in the hotel industry do, add La Culpa to your watch list. With a little luck, he might be able to start his career at Saratoga this summer. He has a famous dad, so we hope some of dad’s success rubs off on him. The dreaming has officially begun. Here now is Definitely Doug along with the latest industry technology news.

[email protected]

Definitely Doug

The Apple Changes its Stripes

Four weeks ago in this space, I published comprehensive thoughts on the need to reimagine the guest arrival process, and the many challenges hotels have faced trying to do that. Guests want the journey from the porte cochère to their room to be simple, fast, and personalized. Hotels, facing the most severe staffing shortages of modern times, want to minimize the need for staff, but also enable them to focus on things that can impact guest satisfaction.

Technology is constantly evolving and changing, so most everything I write eventually becomes stale. Usually, it remains relevant for a year or two, sometimes more, sometimes less. That article, however, set a record, becoming seriously outdated just 17 days after its publication, based on a major change in direction from Apple. It is all good news for hotels, but it means that this week, rather than moving on to a new topic, I need to revisit the issue and discuss what has changed.

A major conclusion of the original article was that current-generation mobile keys, a major potential contributor to a better arrival process, simply do not work well. For guests, they required downloading an app, logging in and using it to obtain a mobile key, unlocking the phone and activating it each time they need to use the key, and (in most cases) waking up the lock by holding the phone in front of it. All of these either create barriers to usage or provide an experience that is in most respects inferior to using a traditional keycard. Mobile key usage at hotels that offer it is still mostly in the single-digit percentages. While the need to download an app is one major barrier, it is also problematical that a mobile key is much harder to use than a traditional RFID keycard.

In the article, I identified the biggest issue as Apple’s unwillingness to make Near-Field Communication (NFC) capabilities, built into all iPhones since the iPhone 6 launch in 2014, available for use in hotel key applications. This was a business decision by Apple, not a technical one; Apple already supported the use of NFC in other environments such as access control for college dorms and paid entry to transit systems.

Much of this is now changing. At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference on June 7, Apple announced that it would be launching hotel keys into the Apple Wallet with iOS15, and deploying it first with Hyatt in 1,000 properties this fall. It uses the same underlying NFC technology as Apple Pay. This should not be confused with QR-code-based credentials that can also be stored in the Apple Wallet, such as airline boarding passes or membership cards, all of which can be easily copied and shared. NFC enables high levels of security and further guarantees that the credential can only be used by the intended device.

While there is still much that is not yet publicly known about how this will work, we know enough about Apple devices and NFC as it is currently supported in hotel door locks to be able to sketch the general outlines of what is likely. It is possible that implementation protocols will differ in details, but I do not expect that they will have a big effect on the outcome.

First, unlike the current generation of mobile keys that mostly use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communication, using a mobile NFC key does not require the guest to have or use a mobile app. The key can be delivered to the guest via a web page link that is sent to the guest via email or SMS, by scanning a QR code, or via a mobile app or progressive web app. This means that the large percentage of guests who will never download the hotel or brand app can still be invited to do online check-in and obtain a mobile key, and bypass or minimize their interaction at the front desk. Just as important, the ones that do use the hotel app can continue to do so.

Second, using an NFC mobile key is much easier than a BLE one. Just like with traditional NFC keycards, you simply hold your phone or paired device (e.g. Apple watch) close to the lock, and it opens. Once you have retrieved your key, the phone does not need to be on, unlocked, have the hotel app installed or running, or be held in a certain way. It can be in airplane mode; Bluetooth can be turned off; in most cases, it will work even with a dead battery. To the lock reader, an NFC mobile key looks just like a plastic keycard, meaning it will work with readers in common access doors, club lounges, and hotel elevators. In short, it acts just as if a physical keycard was taped to your iPhone or watch.

Third, because most modern hotel locks support NFC, the mobile NFC keys will work without any hardware or software upgrades – not for door locks, and not for elevator cardkey readers and control systems. This is good news for hotels that have not upgraded their locks for BLE, an expensive upgrade that will lose most of its value if NFC mobile keys become dominant, which I expect they will. It is maybe not such good news for brands that already forced owners to do BLE upgrades that never achieved significant usage and may soon be unneeded.

Fourth, the same technology is supported on most Android devices carried by hotel guests. Some low-end Android phones lack NFC chips, but those models are mostly found in lower-income countries and are not commonly used by hotel guests. Mobile NFC keys have already been proven out on Android, but because Android devices vary significantly in implementations, there are more technical barriers to getting to a seamless experience with every NFC-enabled Android phone. I expect that will take some time – but I also expect that many mainstream Android devices will be supportable by the time the iOS rollout gains steam.

To be sure, there are some unknowns. Apple typically charges a fee to use the NFC chips in its phones. While the commercial arrangements for hotels have not been publicized, I would not assume it will come for free (although that is a possibility). For Apple Pay, the fee for using the NFC chip has been estimated to be in the range of 0.15% of the transaction value, paid by card issuers, or about 10 to 15 cents for an average credit card transaction. For hotels, any fee would be offset by savings on physical keycards that most guests will no longer want, as well as any labor savings at the front desk.

If we factor in the number of plastic keycards that would be saved (allowing for some guests who will still want plastic as well as mobile keys) and the fact that even lone guests often request two keys, it seems like a fee for using an NFC mobile key in the range of 40 to 50 cents per room per stay would be roughly cost-neutral to hotels, before accounting for any front-desk labor savings. For Apple, this would be a lower cost-per-use than Apple Pay (since a key might be used 10 times per average stay), but as the transaction is simpler and the key only has to be loaded once regardless of how many times it is used, I would expect it would still be financially attractive to Apple.

It is also possible that Apple’s agreement with some of the major lock providers that will be supporting the new capability may give Apple a period of exclusivity during which the locks will not interoperate with Android devices; this could delay an Android launch but also give manufacturers more time to work through the varying NFC implementations in Android devices.

The same Apple announcement included support for house keys (if you have a smart lock) and corporate access control badges, meaning that the general public’s familiarity with using a phone as a key should grow, further spurring usage in hotels. The home aspect is interesting in that it is unclear how Apple would be able to charge a usage fee – meaning it is conceivable that there, and perhaps by extension with hotels, there might not be one.

The only fly in the ointment will be for hotels that use keycard switches to control the lights in guest rooms. This is not too common in North America, but much more so in other parts of the world. Without plastic keycards, there is no way to turn on the lights. I have never been much of a fan of keycard switches as an energy-saving measure because too many guests override them; if you want to reduce electricity usage, heating, and cooling, occupancy detectors almost always have a better ROI than keycard switches. But hotels that already have them will need to upgrade in order to move to the next generation of mobile key. This may be a barrier in certain locations where local regulations require keycard switches.

To be sure, NFC mobile keys are new to the hotel market and will take some time to roll out and fine-tune, but I have very little doubt that they will ultimately be successful. I expect this will dramatically increase the use of the mobile key, from single-digit percentages (where available) today, to perhaps 50-75% in a few years. This will save front desk staffing costs, improve the guest experience, avoid the need for hardware upgrades, and reduce the use of plastic keys. As long as any fees are reasonable, it is a big win for the industry.

This solves a big problem, and it’s about time!

Douglas Rice
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @dougrice

Recent Technology News, from Hospitality Upgrade and Hotel Online

Corporate News

– McLaren Signs Strategic Agreement With AnMeng in China
McLaren Technologies has signed a partner agreement with Guangzhou AnMeng Intelligent Technology Co. as a reseller of the McLaren solution suite in China, as it looks to fortify and grow its operation in the region.

People on The Move

– Jeff Bzdawka Joins Knowland as CEO Positioning Company as Critical Partner for Hotel Recovery
Knowland, a leader in AI-powered meetings and events data for the hospitality industry, announced it has appointed Jeff Bzdawka, former SVP of global hotel technology for Hyatt Hotels, as its chief executive officer.

– b4checkin Announces Peter J. Rogers, Jr. as Chief Executive Officer, Founder Saar Fabrikant Appointed as President
b4checkin, Ltd. has appointed its current Chairman of the Board, Peter J. Rogers, Jr., as its new Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Saar Fabrikant, the Company’s co-founder, who previously acted in both the CEO and President roles, has been appointed as President. Mr. Fabrikant will direct product development & strategic sales, as b4checkin drives to meet the expanding technology needs of a post-pandemic hospitality industry.

– ProfitSword Reaffirms Commitment to Business Intelligence Innovation With Appointment of Jason Wallace as Vice President of Engineering
ProfitSword, a premier developer of business intelligence and data integration software, has announced the appointment of Jason Wallace as Vice President of Engineering.

– Positioning Hotels for Growth: ProfitSword Reaffirms Vision and Strategy Through Reimagined Senior Leadership Team
ProfitSword, a premier developer of business intelligence and data integration software, has announced a bolstering of its commitment to staying ahead of the latest business intelligence trends through a reimagined corporate leadership team. The company’s vision will see existing leadership streamline their roles and responsibilities along with an ongoing expansion of the corporate team to ensure maximum effectiveness in adapting to new industry needs.

Guest Management Systems

– Jonas Chorum Surpasses 1,000 Hotels Across North America
Jonas Chorum, a suite of streamlined, intuitive and flexible property management solutions, announced that they now have over 1,000 North American hotels using Chorum PMS. With its leading cloud-based property management software, as well as staff and guest-facing mobile and contactless solutions that can be used on any device, Jonas Chorum offers innovative technology designed to enhance hotel operations.

– Are You Exceeding Your Guests Expectations?
At Knowcross, we focus on three central housekeeping areas: staff productivity, cleaning quality, and guest experience.

– The Elephant in the Room: Guest Review Responses
As consumers begin to travel in larger numbers, hotels are facing a new challenge: responding to guest reviews in a timely manner.

Guest Facing Technology

– Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo Partners With INTELITY to Deliver Mobile-First Guest Experience
INTELITY®, the developer of hospitality’s most comprehensive guest experience and staff management platform, announced today a new deal with Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo in Monaco. The renowned Mediterranean property will deliver contactless service for guests through a branded mobile app with robust capabilities including mobile check-in, that adds another layer of convenience and safety for guests and team members.

– Gila River Hotels & Casinos Partners With SONIFI Solutions to Enhance Guest Experiences While Also Generating More Revenue
With a strong mixture of guests coming for gaming, leisure and group conferences, Arizona’s Four Diamond awarded Gila River Hotels & Casinos is seeing great benefits from technology upgrades made with trusted partner SONIFI Solutions.

– Bartech’s Customized In-Room Minibar POS Solutions Lead to Increased Hotel Guest Satisfaction
Hospitality’s leading provider of automated minibar technology credited by customers for refining the contactless, convenient experiences that guests now expect.

– Shephard’s Beach Resort Adopts BeyondTV’s myRemote for Contactless Compatibility With All Guestroom Television Models
Hotel Internet Services (HIS), a full-service provider of internet services and solutions for the hospitality industry, has announced the successful implementation of the BeyondTV virtualized remote feature, myRemote, at Shephard’s Beach Resort in Clearwater, Florida.


– Vizergy® Named Partner of the Year for Its Leading-Edge Digital Sales and Marketing Platform
Hard Rock International (HRI) presented Vizergy® Digital Marketing with their prestigious Partner of the Year award. Vizergy received this recognition for its excellence in overall performance, brand involvement and collaboration.

Sales & Catering, Groups & Meetings

– UgoVirtual™ Debuts New 3D and AR Elements to Enhance Engagement and ROI of Virtual, Hybrid and Physical Events
Innovative new addition to UgoVirtual’s modular virtual/hybrid event solutions platform leverages the advanced power of 3D and AR to maximize attendee engagement and ROI for virtual, hybrid and physical events.

– U.S. Meetings and Events Volume Shows Double-Digit Growth for Fourth Consecutive Month According to Knowland
Knowland, the leader in AI-powered meetings and events data for hotels, convention and visitor bureaus, conference centers and other venues, today released its monthly meetings and events data for May. The numbers reveal that May U.S. group meetings volume increased 28.4 percent over last month.

– Groups360 Launches Global Direct Booking Solution for Group Room Blocks With Hilton
Groups360 and Hilton announced the global launch of GroupSync Engage, the hospitality industry’s first integrated direct booking solution for group room blocks, across the majority of the Hilton portfolio.

– SMERF Booking Opportunities Are Back
Thinking outside the box and leveraging new and innovative technologies can make all the difference between a successful SMERF marketing campaign and empty event spaces.

Back Office

– Accor Transforms Its Accounting System for Hotels in Middle East With Infor SaaS Solution
Infor, the industry cloud company, today announced that Accor IMEA, an augmented hospitality leader with more than 400 hotels in India, Middle East, Africa and Turkey, is transforming its accounting systems with Infor SunSystems, a powerful financial management solution, on AWS.

Communications and Infrastructure

– Cloud5 Communications Ranked Top HSIA Provider in May GPNS Vendor Report by Marriott International
Cloud5 Communications, a leading provider of communications solutions for the world’s top hotel brands and management companies, has been recognized by Marriott International as achieving the highest vendor ranking in May for High-Speed Internet service based on its stringent Global Property Network Standards (GPNS).

Food & Beverage

– Manor Vail Lodge Selects Agilysys Solutions to Improve Operations & Enhance Guest Experience
Agilysys, Inc. (Nasdaq: AGYS), a leading global provider of next-generation cloud-native SaaS and on-premise hospitality software solutions and services, today announced that Manor Vail Lodge in Vail, CO has selected the award-winning innovative InfoGenesis POS solution, as well as IG Flex for Mobile POS, its modern cloud-native SaaS IG OnDemand for self-service F&B ordering and payment, and Agilysys Pay Connect for secure payment processing.


– Kipsu and Quore Announce Integration
Kipsu, the leading guest engagement platform in the hospitality industry, and Quore, the leading provider of workflow management and productivity tools for hotels, are excited to announce their new alliance and integration that will allow teams to streamline communication between front- and back-of-house operations.


– Sabre Partners With GOPASS Global to Mitigate Travel Risks While Increasing Confidence to Travel
Sabre Corporation a leading software and technology provider that powers the global travel industry, has partnered with travel risk management platform GOPASS Global to help deliver its game-changing COVID-19 biosecurity risk analytics capabilities to the travel industry.

Hospitality Events and Association News

– ICHRIE Announces New Executive Director
Fran Brasseux, CHSE, CHBA, CTTA, will assume the top leadership role for the organization effective June 16.

– Seatrade Cruise Global Returns to Miami September 2021 Celebrating Resilience as Industry Makes Strides Toward the Next Era of Cruising
Seatrade Cruise Global, the cruise industry’s leading annual business-to-business event, is returning to the Miami Beach Convention Center, 27-30 September for its first in-person gathering since 2019.

Piqued Our Interest

Hotel Employees Are Sharing Their Darkest Secrets, And Anyone Who Travels Should Know Them

Business Travel in the Age of Zoom

Hospitality Workers Are Quitting at the Fastest Rate in 20 Years Just as Employers are Raising Wages

The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?

And now for you know what…

A Tail of Two Horses

Twin brothers each bought a racehorse. Racehorses often have strange names, and the brothers were trying to think of names that would be unique, yet related.

Though the twins were born only a few minutes apart, the first twin was born on January 1st, and the second twin on January 2nd. They appreciated that this odd timing gave them unique birthdays and decided to name their horses after their birthdates. So, the older twin named his horse 1 1 and the younger twin named his 1 2.

As they groomed and trained their horses, a friendly competition developed about whose horse would be the best. The argument was never decided though, because while 1 1 1 1 race, 1 2 1 1 2.

(Say each digit individually….get it?)