Lodging’s 2010 Innovators: Gustaf Burman, Senior Director of IT, Specialty Select Brands, Starwood Hotels & Resorts

While RFID technology has been on the radar of hotels for a while, one of the questions has been: Are hotel guests in the United States really ready for it. RFID technology allows guests to receive check-in information, such as room number, and us a special keycard or their mobile device as a room key and for other access throughout the hotel. It, in effect, allows guests to skip the check-in process upon arrival.

Because such check-in technology requires users’ mobile devices to be NFC-enabled, hotels have wondered if there are enough of these devices yet available in the U.S. NFC-enabled devices are much more common in Europe.

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One hotel brand that decided the time was indeed right is Aloft, the lifestyle boutique brand from Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Earlier this year, Aloft, working through a partnership with VingCard Elsafe, launched its “Smart Check-In” at its Lexington, Mass. property.

Gustaf Burman, senior director of IT for specialty select brands at Starwood, was instrumental in getting the program off the ground. “We knew that RFID was the next generation when it came to door lock technology. You can use a card or many different devices to enter the rooms,” Burman says. “We knew that it was the logical technology to allow guest to self-serve through their stay.”

In regard to the concerns over the readiness of the technology, Burman says, “We’ve done a lot of research and it’s shown us that NFC is going to explode into the market I the coming months. So we wanted to have our technology enabled to support it.”

Burman says that in addition to the Lexington property, new Aloft hotels will have Smart Check In as part of a standard. “Current hotels can easily be upgraded to RFID as well,” Burman adds.

Since it launched, Aloft has skewed toward a younger, tech-savvy crowd at its hotels. Burman says guest reaction to the technology has so far been positive. “They love the convenience. To have that special keycard and such quick access to their hotel room makes them feel like sort of an insider at Aloft,” he says.

The technology isn’t only for door locks. While Aloft started the program as a check-in process, it is looking at using it at its grab-and-go lobby food service. Currently, guests pay for what they take from the food service at the front desk. With the new technology, they’ll be able to take the food and drink and pay with their RFID card or mobile device. “Potentially, we’re looking at the bar and when you get into resorts, for things such as pool side order as well,” Burman says.

Burman says he thinks that other hotels will follow suit in launching uses for the technology. “I definitely think this is something that will be launched throughout the industry,” he says.

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