ORLANDO, FL—Hilton Worldwide is touting it can open doors for its HHonors members, quite literally.
At a select number of properties last summer, the mega-chain beta-tested Digital Key, a tech tool that enables its loyalty-program members to access their hotel rooms via the Hilton HHonors app on their smartphones. The initiative proved successful and is now available at more than 95 Hilton properties in the United States, with expectations of rolling out the feature by year’s end to all full-service Hilton hotels in the U.S.
Among those utilizing the technology is the 498-room Waldorf Astoria Orlando, which saw guest usage of the tool starting last October. The hotel was the first luxury Hilton property to implement Digital Key and, according to General Manager John Carns, it is a good fit for its objectives.
“Waldorf Astoria Orlando epitomizes new, modern luxury. We welcome a significant number of business travelers/meeting attendees who are very tech savvy, a large majority of whom are Hilton HHonors members. This was well-aligned against the target audience for this technology rollout. Additionally, as Hilton Worldwide’s Luxury Hotel of the Year, our team members are very engaged and focused on creating the best possible luxury experiences for our guests. Our team is innovative, creative…and has piloted many other successful brand programs in the past,” he said.
Since the initial launch, Hilton has issued more than46,000 Digital Keys at the 95-plus properties offering the feature, said Carns. “At Waldorf Astoria Orlando specifically, we’ve seen very strong adoption of this technology from its introduction at the hotel, with more than 20% of all HHonors arrivals utilizing the Digital Key,” he said, noting the exclusive benefits afforded to HHonors members is communicated on the chain’s websites, during the booking process and in all HHonors-related communications. “We find the majority of our HHonors guests are aware of these services before they arrive at the hotel,” said the GM.
He noted the tool is a natural extension of Hilton’s digital check-in with room selection, a tool launched in 2014 where HHonors members can choose their exact room from a digital floor plan on the HHonors app.
The HHonors mobile app provides benefits to members who book directly though the app, Hilton.com, the Hilton reservations call center or via Hilton’s corporate travel partners. These include customizing their stay by requesting amenities such as extra pillows, snacks or drinks, and informing the hotel whether they want Digital Key when selecting their room. Digital Key is issued on the day of arrival when the room is ready.
The tool also allows guests—specifically Diamond, Gold and Silver HHonors members—to bypass check-in and go directly to the room. Those in the HHonors Blue tier must stop at the front desk to show identification and a credit card before being issued a Digital Key.
The Digital Key opens any door a guest could normally open with a keycard. This would include a participating hotel’s guestroom, elevators, side doors, fitness center and the parking garage. HHonors members open the app and when they are within range of an equipped door lock, using Bluetooth technology they tap the app’s virtual unlock icon on their smartphones to enter the space.
Right now, Digital Key is available on Android and iPhone smartphones. However, Carns said, “HHonors members without these devices can stop by the front desk to use a traditional keycard. As our broader digital team continues to roll out Digital Key at full-service properties across the U.S. this year, they are looking to ensure our tools are accessible on the digital channels our guests use most.”
Digital Key may also be used on Apple and Android tablets as long as it’s the device used to check-in via the HHonors app.
According to Hilton, by year’s end, HHonors members will be able to use their smartphones as their room key to enter more than 170,000 rooms at 250 U.S. properties within the Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts and Canopy by Hilton brands.
Digital Key is “very easy” to use, said the GM. “The HHonors app walks you through each step of the process. If guests ever have questions about Digital Key, they can always seek out the friendly faces of our front desk team.”
Carns, himself, is a fan of the technology. “Absolutely, and I love it. Utilizing the HHonors app to select my room and use Digital Key affords me the ability to save time while I travel. With the ability to bypass the front desk, my check-in at any Hilton property that offers Digital Key is fast and efficient—no lines, straight to the room,” he said.
While most families traveling together have multiple devices, the GM said only one Digital Key per stay is issued. “Digital Key is tied to a specific phone and a specific guest account and cannot be shared or placed on another device. However, if a family is traveling together and needs multiple keys, for example, additional guests can stop by the front desk to pick up a traditional keycard,” said Carns, adding, “If a guest loses his or her smartphone, we ask that he or she notify the front desk immediately so we can take steps to ensure the Digital Key cannot be used.
“The wellbeing and safety of our guests and our team members is our top priority, and we design our technology with security precautions in mind. After its first use, the Digital Key conceals the room number associated with it, thus the room number is not displayed should the phone be lost or stolen. Additionally, we always recommend that our guests password-protect their smartphones using their device’s native security features,” he said.
By putting “meaningful” digital tools in guests’ hands, Carns said, ultimately, the ability to personalize their experience “means increased loyalty, more genuine word-of-mouth recommendations and added time that our team members can use to have more-personal and less-transactional interactions with guests.”
—Stefani C. O’Connor