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June 14, 2021

Could smartphones replace hotel room keys?

In the race to turn cell phones into anything but, each business and industry has had their crack.

For example, one bank rolled out a mobile deposit system last August capable of depositing a cheque into your account by photographing it with your phone’s camera. Our smartphones were now ATMs.

Impressive, yes, but now it’s the hotel biz’s turn. And soon, you may never need a room key again.

Two U.S. Holiday Inns will test-drive a new project this month that – if all goes right – will let guests skip the front desk and use their cell phones as room keys.

In fact, according to the Star, the act of “booking a room and picking up your key” at a hotel could soon become entirely Web-based.

With this new plan, users download an app onto their smartphones which plays a unique, computer-generated audio file from your phone’s speaker toward a receiver on the door. And then – as if you’d just swiped your traditional key – voila, you’re in.

“We don’t mean to replace human contact,” a Holiday Inn exec told the Star. “It’s just an option for our frequent travellers who may have 20 minutes to get into their room and get ready for a business dinner.”

The hotel chain is mum on its future plans for the new system, due in large part because it has no idea how guests will react.

Anyone with a high level of cynicism will immediately cry foul on this move, and that’s to be expected anytime a piece of new technology aims to replace an old one.

Security is sure to be a concern. If, say, someone found a way to record your unique, computer-generated audio key, would that gain them entry into your room? How bullet-proof will the smartphone system prove to be, security-wise?

In any case, travellers need not fret. This is just a test project and you wouldn’t need to participate in it if you don’t want to.

“It’s too early to tell if it will replace all keys,” the hotel exec said, adding, “but it won’t replace the front desk.”

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...