The next generation of hotel security and lock systems will depend on two features—ease of access for the guest and ease of control for the hotel. As a result, there are some subtle shifts in the market that will change how electrical contractors do business.

The electronic key card is fast becoming the guest’s one passport to all services from opening the room door to accessing the in-room safe to buying a drink at the bar. Security can audit rooms remotely. In an emergency, all room doors can be opened at the push of a button. Conversely, if a door is left ajar, the security desk is notified and can check to be sure the room is secured.

Contractors have to deal with connections to hotel computer networks as well as the traditional lock and motion- detector systems.

“The key to a good lock is dependability,” said Bernard Lefebvre, director of North American Sales for Kaba Ilco’s Hospitality Division, Montreal.

“There is a lot of new technology out there,” he said, “but the technology does not matter if the lock does not work. Rule No. 1 is protect the guest.”

Sometimes, locks protect the hotel too. Marc Golberg, property access manager at the 1,000-room Atlantis Casino Resort, Reno, Nev., has an interesting story about how the electronic system helped catch an obviously confused guest.

The Atlantis is across from Reno’s Convention Center. According to Golberg, a watch dealer checked in to the hotel saying he would be the room’s sole occupant. But he asked for three keys. Later that day, he was in security. He swore his watches were stolen.

Golberg checked the SSI Access-Plus system installed at the hotel and found that people, using the two other keys he requested, were in and out all day. It turns out that the dealer had brought his kids along and the kids invited friends to use the room and facilities. The hotel was not responsible for the missing watches.

While the big hotels get most of the press, industry insiders say the action is at smaller hotels. “We are getting calls from a lot of boutique hotels—obscure, little hotels with 20 rooms,” said Ron Nigro, owner of Lock Doctors. The Sheboygan, Wis., firm installs and repairs electronic locking systems.

Nigro said that the high-end clientele at these smaller hotels, which often are tied to a spa, demand the best in service and security.

Energy savings

At the Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia, there has been a definite payback with the new locking system. “We have seen a 5 to 6 percent savings off our energy bills,” said Colin Mantell, systems manager.

The Grand Pacific was one of the first to marry the Saflock and InnCom systems when the hotel went through a $30 million renovation and expansion. Two floors and an additional wing brought the hotel from 145 rooms to 304 by May 2001. Adding to the challenge was the fact the hotel was fully operational the whole time.

In addition to the basic security provided, the system monitors when a guest is present in the room. When a guest leaves, the heat or air conditioning is adjusted accordingly.

“If no motion is detected, the thermostat automatically signals the HVAC unit to go to a specified setback temperature after 15 minutes,” said David Oliver, vice president/market development for InnCom.

With central control, in-room thermostats are connected via a computer network. In vacant rooms, temperature is allowed to fall into a wider preset range. As soon as a guest checks into the room, the system alerts the thermostat and the room cools or heats to a cozy level before the guest arrives.

The newest product from Onity, called the OS Elite, features minimal outside hardware. It works with a horizontal or vertical reader and gives the user the advantage of its groove-and-arrow concept that all but eliminates human error with the insertion process.

Security is enhanced with a card plus personal identification number or PIN only, or with the card plus biometrics or biometrics only. The system is targeted at high-end hotels.

“Interfaces to the hotel’s point-of-sale system are standard features these days,” said Kerry Hirschy, senior vice president of sales at Saflok. This allows the electronic room key to function as a charge card in the restaurant or gift shop.

“Most hotel companies are looking for ways to keep contact with their primary customers (frequent guests). Eventually, customers will be able to get online at home, code a key and go straight to their rooms,” Hirschy predicted.

A system like Security Innovations’ Access-Plus is an online system. It transmits and receives information from the front desk to individual guest room card readers. It uses standard ABA (American Banking Association) magstripe cards, available from many vendors. Up to 150 unique cards can be activated per card reader as a standard with an optional add-on memory up to 10,000 unique cards.

Kaba Ilco has developed a prototype of a lock that requires no interaction with hotel staff at all. A visitor can take a frequent guest card, or the credit card used to make the hotel reservation, and proceed directly to a room to check in. Similar to the system used at many airport kiosk check-in spots, this system has the advantage of bypassing the kiosk, as well. Lefebvre said the new system should be out in 2005.

Not a gamble

Hotels with gaming facilities have special requirements including links to player club features. The TimeLox “One-Card Solution” series of locking systems from Assa Abloy Hospitality, Dallas, will be used at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort. Currently under construction, it is scheduled to open in April 2005. The system was developed with gaming properties in mind. A proprietary-player tracking system feature allows guests to use their guest room keycards for access to multiple areas and services such as game tables, slots, POS outlets, in-room safes and minibars.

Today’s electronic systems can track all card holders who have entered a room anywhere in the hotel. Employees can be located at a moment’s notice by tracking use of their cards.

Hirschy said one area ripe for integration is security and facility management.

A temporary key, issued to a pest control subcontractor, can show exactly which rooms were treated. Management can also use the smart card as a time-control tool, seeing how long a housekeeper spends in each room. Likewise, the front desk can track which rooms have been readied for guests.

At the Grand Pacific, the Saflok system is married to infrared technology from INNCOM International Inc. Among the features is the ability to relocate guests or extend stays without having to recode cards.

Wireless systems

Electrical contractors will undoubtedly encounter wireless systems at hospitality venues. Kaba Ilco is working on a Wi-Fi-based system. Most hotels want some sort of communication between the room lock and the front desk. Whether to monitor entry, to warn of doors left ajar or to monitor the minibar, the system has to communicate to back-of-house systems. Currently, systems require the electrician to run wires from each door to the front desk.

Saflok’s Glenn Peacock, director of marketing, said the Messenger System, a wireless lock-access control, works on a proprietary radio frequency system.

“There is going to be a lot more development in wireless and self-service,” he said. “But there are trade-offs with security. 802.11 may come into its own when it becomes more economically feasible to secure it.”

That will not hold back Kaba Ilco. “We are seeing an emergence of Wi-Fi that uses the same communications network that a lot of hotels are setting up for guest use,” Lefebvre said. He predicted it will be available for electricians to install in hotels in 2005.

HARLER, a frequent contributor to SECURITY & LIFE SAFETY SYSTEMS, is based in Strongsville, Ohio. He can be reached at 440.238.4556 or curt@curtharler.com.