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Guests check-in to Holiday Inn with RFID

The Holiday Inn Express Hotel in Halifax is one of a handful of Canadian hotels equipped with RFID room keys and locks, but interest in the technology is growing.



June 5, 2008
By Neil Sutton

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For several years, magnetic stripe technology has been the norm for
hotel room keys, but the Halifax Holiday Inn opted for RFID (radio
frequency indentification) based on its superior ease of use.

Mag stripe requires that a user slot a key into the lock, whereas with
RFID it’s only necessary to wave the key within a few inches of the
lock.

“There’s no programming issues, it’s so user friendly in terms of (card
use),” says Cheryl Ann Grigg, the hotel’s general manager. “You don’t
have to insert your card a certain way or pull out at a certain speed
to make sure that it works. It reads it from a good distance and from
either side of the key. It’s user-friendly, and that’s what’s most
important. We’re in the guest services industry and that’s what we’re
trying to do.”

Alastair Cush, product manager for ILCO, the company that manufactures
the keys and locks, says the hospitality industry is just starting to
catch onto the advantages of RFID. The Halifax Holiday Inn Express,
which opened in April of this year, is one of a handful of Canadian
hospitality customers currently using the technology, but ILCO expects
to sign up more. The company also has a significant and growing
customer base in Europe and the U.S. for its RFID solutions.

The reason for the growth in the hotel industry, says Cush, is that the
technology is rapidly coming down in price. It has been used for
industrial and commercial use for years, where cost is less of an issue.

“The difference between a hotel and commercial installation, of course,
is the number of locks. If you use a contactless system in a factory,
you might need 10 locks. In a hotel it’s anything from 50 up,” he says.

“The pricing of the components is now right. The pricing of the
keycards and other credentials is now right and the expertise is there
to be able to roll out a cost-effective solution to hotels.”

Grigg says that hotel customers appreciate the ease of use associated
with RFID. They’re also far less likely to malfunction than mag stripe
keys, which can become demagnetized and therefore unable to unlock the
appropriate door. “We don’t have that feedback from guests (with the
RFID keys). They just consistently work,” she says.

“You tend to get customers coming back to the front desk with a card
that doesn’t work,” adds John Sarrouf, ILCO’s vice-president of
marketing. “And most of the time, that happens at two o’clock in the
morning. When you take the magnetic stripe off the keycard, you solve
that problem immediately.”

Another advantage of the RFID keys and locks is that they leave a record of when doors where accessed and by whom, says Cush.

“Everytime the lock reads a keycard and grants or denies access, it
will leave an audit – and record on the keycard that it was used (in a
particular lock),” he says.

“You can take a lock and read it, so to speak, to see whose key has
accessed the room,” says Grigg. “For example, at 8:05 a.m., the guest
entered the room, then at 9:40 a.m., the attendant had entered the room
using their key and so on.”

The RFID locks run on three ordinary AA batteries, which will last for
120,000 door openings or about three years before they need to be
changed. The RFID keys are available in a standard keycard size, or can
be produced as fobs or wristbands. The latter is of particular interest
to hotel resorts, says Sarrouf. Since the wristbands can be carried
easily and are waterproof, they can be used guests when they are
swimming or enjoying other water sports.

The Halifax Holiday Inn was a brand new install for ILCO, but much of
its hospitality business is coming from retrofits – hotels upgrading
from mag stripe to the RFID locks, which fit standard doors with
minimum preparation.

RFID technology is becoming more affordable, but is still about 20 per
cent more expensive than magnetic stripe keys and cards. Price is “the
only thing that’s slowing down the penetration of this technology in
today’s hospitality market,” says Sarrouf. “But once the price of the
keycard goes down and becomes more accessible, we will see more and
more people are going to go towards this technology.”