A smarter way to check in to your hotel

Starwood's hotel chain is trying out a system that allows guests to open and lock their hotel room door with a smartphone. (Starwood Hotels/AFP)

Starwood Hotels is testing a new feature that would replace keys and membership cards with a smartphone app.

The new feature, which the company calls a “keyless key,” would enable its Starwood Preferred Guest members to simply go straight to their rooms and open the door via their smartphone, rather than having to go through the process of checking in.

The system will be trialed at the chain’s Aloft Harlem New York and Aloft Silicon Valley California hotels and builds on Starwood’s existing Smart Check In service. Available at a number of Aloft hotels, it automates a number of processes for valued, time-poor customers but the features are built around a physical smart card that guests must obtain and carry with them.

With the Keyless Key all that a guest will need is an Android smartphone running version 4.3 or newer or an iPhone 4S or newer. The locking mechanism works via Bluetooth so as long as the app is running, the door will automatically unlock or lock.

According to the Wall Street Journal, if the trial is successful, Starwood plans to roll the feature out to all of its W and Aloft hotels, globally by the end of 2015.

The company’s competitors will be watching closely. With the exception of free or metered wi-fi, the hospitality industry has been very slow to unlock the potential benefits of mobile technology and apps. But if Starwood’s trial is a success, then smart keys and a host of other “smart” features could soon become the norm across the industry.