SAN FRANCISCO — People have talked about keyless entry and easy-check-in at hotels for a long time — and nothing’s happened yet. But HotelTonight founder Sam Shank believes it’s coming because it’s a lot more efficient, convenient, and secure.
The discussion on keyless entry focused on what is happening with the future of travel and hotels at our MobileBeat 2014 conference. Shank said that people increasingly want to handle transactions only on their mobile devices.
At the recent Google I/O event, the online travel company announced that its Android app will in the near future enable people to check into their hotel rooms using just its app. The express check-in feature bypasses checking in at hotel reception and replaces it with a two-tap process on the app.
The app tells you when your room will be ready and, if the hotel still uses keys, when you can go to the front desk and pick them up. The app takes advantage of near-field communications (NFC), where you can wave a phone in front of an NFC receiver to establish a communications link. You can hold the phone next to a door lock and it will unlock it in seconds.
“We are working with the best technology partners on this,” Shank said. “There is no reason we need a hotel room key. It’s an antiquated way of doing authentication. Can we help with the check-in process, especially with an independent hotel that doesn’t have a lot of resources.”
After all, nobody wants to wait in a line when they’re tired at the end of a day, Shank said.
“There’s no reason this can’t be done through a phone,” Shank said.
The feature is in pilot testing with select hotels on iOS, and it will roll out to more hotels on Android in the coming weeks. HotelTonight is also enabling better discovery of hotels via Google’s Places Autocomplete applications programming interface, which enables you to find nearby hotels with partial spellings in a search.
HotelTonight provides you with discounts on last-minute hotel bookings, and it has grown dramatically. A year ago, HotelTonight was in 100 destinations in 12 countries. Now it is more than 400 destinations in 27 countries.
“It’s been an amazing 3.5 years,” Shank said. “It’s about adding new cities and hotels. It’s hard when you go from adding one hotel a day to adding 100 hotels a day. You need different systems and quality control.”
Shank said he wants to deepen ties to the hotel industry, and he has been getting help from Barry Sternlicht, the CEO of Starwood Capital Group and former chief of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide chain, which operates the W and St. Regis hotel brands.
Aunkur Arya, general manager of mobile for Braintree and moderator of Shank’s session, asked if Shank foresaw more deals with the likes of companies like Lyft and Uber, where someone could call for a car and get a hotel at the same time. If it’s about improving convenience for the consumer, it will probably happen, though the integration process isn’t an easy one.