In the late 1970s, hotel lock suppliers and hotel operators introduced mechanical card locks, making it easier to re-key a guestroom lock. The lodging industry's acceptance of such locks spelled the end of the old metal key.

Card locks soon went electronic. The new level of security these offered made them an industry standard and a hotel industry mandate. For almost 20 years, electronic locks and magnetic-stripe key cards have been the norm.

Innovation and technology, however, march on. This is especially true when it comes to security. The key is to constantly add heightened security levels to every device possible, including door locks. The same technology advances helping the good guys be more secure helps the bad guys with new ways to beat that security. Credit cards can be copied and cloned, so experts speculate that the encrypted information on hotel staff master key cards also is subject to cloning.

That is one reason hotel lock manufacturers are developing new access-control technologies. The old adage, “locks are made to keep honest people honest,” will take on a whole new meaning in the future, particularly now that working online — and remotely — is routine.

From fingerprint locks to locks using human iris-scan technology (these are forms of biometrics), solutions are continually being tested. Even the key card is under scrutiny.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) cards are becoming more popular within the hotel industry worldwide and are likely to become the application of choice for hotel security, and even for contactless payments with some of the newer credit cards. But exploration doesn't stop here.

There even is an RFID lock that works in tandem with a guest's cell phone to open guestroom doors, a practice that started in Europe and now is being tested in the United States. These technological advances offer some attractive service options (such as the ability to bypass the front desk upon arrival to check in and pick up a room key), but the question is, what technology will deliver added levels of security at an affordable price?

In addition, RFID cards do not become demagnetized, so they don't have to be re-encoded, and since the card sends a signal to the lock without touching it, it does not have to be inserted into the lock. This increases levels of guest convenience because it avoids confusion over how to insert the key card into the lock. Additionally, it provides a more convenient solution for the guests because they don't have to put down their luggage to unlock their room.

Finally, the lock becomes a sealed device with no open slot, an advantage in areas of extreme weather where locks can fail because of the elements.

We live in an amazing world where technology may not quite rule, though it does provide solutions we never dreamed of 10 years ago. In the future, will a guest or staff member carry a card that gives off a radio signal, or will people open doors using cell phones or fingerprints? In any case, it is clear that unlocking doors and gaining access to restricted areas will not only become more convenient, but also more secure.

Experts will tell you that criminals are working hard to find ways to penetrate security. Thankfully, lock companies, through technological advances like RFID, are also working hard to make sure that doesn't happen.

Daniel J. Connolly is an associate professor of Information Technology and Electronic Commerce in the School of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management at the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business. He is co-author, along with Peter D. Nyheim and Francis McFadden, of Technology Strategies for the Hospitality Industry (2005, Pearson Prentice Hall) from which this column is adapted.

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