As Hilton celebrates the 2nd birthday of its ‘Digital Key’ and launches the service in the UK, Managing Director – Andy Rainforth thought it may be useful to let fellow hotel-hoppers know what they can expect – by sharing first-hand experiences of using this tool in the US.

Hilton Digital Key

For full disclosure, I am (re)viewing this through two lenses. Firstly, I’m a regular Hilton customer [at the time of writing in early August I’ve clocked up over 50 stays so far this year] so I am fairly well versed with their processes and systems. I also travel to the US every few weeks and have been using the Digital Key there for a while. Secondly, I work in the Physical Access Control (PACS) industry and as such have some knowledge of trends and best practice when it comes to using technology to open doors.

What is it?
Hilton’s Digital Key allows guests, via it’s app [of which I am a huge fan] to use their phone as their room key.

How does it work?
To use the feature, guests must enrol in Hilton’s ‘Honors’ (HH) reward programme and check-in online or through the app. Within the app is an option to download a ‘Digital Key’. On arriving at the hotel, customers can bypass reception and head straight to their room where the app can be opened and the used as a ‘key’ that magically opens the door.
The Digital Key replicates a particular guest’s profile, so for example if that guest is a Diamond HH member (its highest level of membership) the Digital Key will also grant the guest access to the Executive Lounge.

What’s to like?
After a long trip or a long day, there’s nothing quite as soul destroying as a long queue at a hotel reception. With Digital Key, you smugly stroll past this line and onwards to your room.
No more lost keys. Now I may just be a disorganised traveller, but at any point in time I seem to have a quantity of Hilton key cards in my jacket pocket and of course because none of them are branded with the specific hotel, I have no clue as to which will open the door in front of me. And if I don’t have that particular challenge I seem to have the opposite one where I lose my plastic key altogether. As I tend to be a little more careful with my phone Digital Key means I can always get in my room.

What else?
Well, quite honestly, not much. The HH app itself has some great features – for instance digital check-in and the option to choose a specific room is really useful, particularly for regular guests who may have favourite floors or parts of the hotel they would rather avoid. But overall I don’t feel Digital Key adds a lot in its current guise.

What’s not to like?hilton keyless, bluetooth access , bluetooth lock,Access Bluetooth, BLE Access Control, BLE reader, Bluetooth Access Control, Bluetooth Reader, Contactless access control, Hands free access control, Keyless Entry System, Mobile phone access control, Smartphone access control, Vizpin
Room changes – HH members receive last-minute ad-hoc room upgrades and the app doesn’t always handle this well. At Minneapolis Airport for example the Hilton has a North and a South Tower. The app had updated my room number but failed to tell me that I had been moved from one tower to the other, hence I had a lovely trip up one tower only to have to present myself back at reception.
Inaccurate profile – This is a common gripe amongst regular US Hilton travellers. Often the Digital Key is activated for access to the guest bedroom, but not to the Executive Lounge or other parts of the hotel. My own experience is that it seems accurate around 75% of the time, but I have experienced some quirks. In one instance the app was enabled for the female gym changing room, rather than the male one. I’ve been told that the Digital Key profile needs manual intervention by front desk staff at each property, so one would imagine that mistakes become fewer over time, but this means that mistakes are likely to be frequent as the tool begins to be rolled out in the UK.

One device per room – The current offering only allows one Digital Key per room, so additional guests still need a plastic key (negating the only real benefit of bypassing the front desk). I spoke to one guest who told me he went to park the car as his wife and kids went straight up the room. He had unlocked his phone and enabled the Digital Key for them but inevitably he found them in the corridor waiting for him as the phone had locked en-route.
Clunky experience – This is the most frustrating part for me. The process of [and bear with me here] taking a phone out of my pocket, unlocking it, opening the app, prompting Digital Key and waiting for it to scan for enabled locks, takes [on a good day] around 15 seconds, which sounds OK, but it’s around 14 seconds longer than using a plastic card. I’ve also experienced a few occasions where the app tells me I am not in range of my door so I have to repeat the ‘scan for doors’ [honestly, I really was].

It’s very early days for the hotel sector in terms of this type of technology. While Hilton have invested heavily in Digital Key and arguably lead their sector, the real-life implementation is disappointing once the novelty value wears off. Knowing what is actually achievable in terms of delivering a completely frictionless experience at the door utilising a smartphone, this falls a long way short and I think the current offering should be seen as a minimum viable proposition.
For those interested in Hilton’s investment in the technology, how the technology actually works or how to achieve an utterly frictionless ‘at-door’ experience please read my post available here.