RFID: Up Close and Personal

In the competitive travel sector, sought-after business and luxury travelers are hard to please and even harder to impress. Accordingly, hotels are investigating high-tech features that can make guest stays safer, more convenient and more enjoyable – including using passive or short-range RFID tags for security, payment and tracking preferences.

“The potential to impress with pristine hospitality is stunning,” says Brendon Lam, lecturer at the RFID Hospitality Management Systems Center(RHyMeS) in Singapore.

Since hotels combine both public and private spaces, secure access is important; however, hotels also want to provide a seamless experience for guests. Providing a short-range RFID tag – in the form of a card, fob or wristband – allows companies to do exactly that. Instead of having to fumble with cumbersome keys, guests can simply wave their tag in front of a door reader, in many cases without removing it from a wallet or purse. 

In addition to the obvious convenience for guests, an RFID solution provides multiple benefits for hotels. Because the RFID solutions are programmable, hotels could quickly and easily change employee access privileges – so a staffer can only open rooms on a specific floor, for example, or a keycard taken by a departed guest can be deactivated. This contactless approach also reduces wear and tear, along with maintenance costs.  

Authorized only
An even more advanced security application would include integrated RFID sensors near key areas such as front doors, staff-only areas and elevators. The sensors could automatically open doors when a person bearing an authorized tag enters, or refuse access when no tag is present. However, Lam says there are some additional concerns with this solution. 

“The lower cost, passive UHF RFID transponders are unable to be reliably read on humans,” he notes. “On the other hand, active RFID can work very well, but at a cost of roughly US$20 per active RFID transponder.”

Since a large hotel may need hundreds of transponders for staff and guests – and needs to be able to replace them cheaply – this cost may be viewed as prohibitive. An even stronger signal may also make it easier for hackers to capture data remotely, making longer-range transponders only worth the risk when added benefits are provided.

As you like it
The potential higher level of service that could be enabled through RFID may nonetheless encourage hotels to make the investment. At a minimum, hotels could give frequent preferred guests an RFID tag to keep and use for quick check-ins and check-outs with a special automated kiosk. (This type of service is currently being implemented at Millennium & Copthorne International hotels in Asia, through partnership with RHyMES.)

Staff could also potentially identify guests through RFID, instantly greeting them by name and quickly accessing stored information on their preferences. 

“There are legendary hotels in Bangkok that remember guests’ preferences, to the extent that a guest is served his favorite Bloody Mary as a welcome drink instead of the usual tropical fruit punch,” says Lam, adding that RFID could allow every hotel staffer to deliver the same hospitality even for infrequent visitors.

Of course, some people may find this type of service intrusive, or even a violation of privacy. According to Lam, these concerns are “more prevalent in Europe and North America, where there is greater suspicion attached to RFID spying on your every move.”  

The service is always optional and RFID bearers can choose to restrict access to information with a simple RF shield that wraps around the tag, blocking information until the bearer gives the go-ahead.

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