Best Access Control System for Hotels (& 4 Key Considerations)

Elliot Blackler July 19, 2022 19 min read

Despite the last few years, we probably have all been into a hotel fairly recently or had an experience with one since their massive changes in the last decade or so. 

When we think of a modern hotel, we are all very used to getting a digital key as opposed to a metal key that you will put into a traditional lock. Most people will think of a credit card sized ‘key’ that is issued at reception or even by a check in terminal when we arrive.

The whole process has been overhauled and it has become a very limited contact and simple procedure, especially when we are in a hurry or do not feel like talking to anyone after travelling, this can be a blessing.

The aim of this article is to shed more light on access control solutions for hotels and give an easy to digest account of the basics of hotel access control.

To summarise, in this guide, we will be covering:

  • Access Control for Hotels Features
  • Hotels Access Control Basics
  • Types of Hospital Access Control
  • Benefits of Hotels Access Control
  • How to Find the Best Hotels Access Control System
  • Hotels Access Control Cost
  • Deciding on the Best Hotels Access Control System

Short on time? Download our Nortech Access Control Comparison


Key Components of Access Control for Hotels 

Although everyone’s focus when installing access control for hotels could be a little different, there are definitely some key parts that have a big impact on the decision to deploy access control. 

In this section, we will be looking at some important things to think about when looking into hotel access control solutions. 

Emergency Access

Keeping the hotel secure around the clock is important, but also being able to clear a path to get guests out in the case of a fire or an emergency is a factor that cannot be overlooked.

When you deploy an access control system, you will gain control over emergency overrides, effectively meaning that when there is a situation, you can unlock all external and internal (non guest room) doors to clear an exit.

This becomes important because it can be the difference between life and death, gone are the days where you would need to be reaching for keys or smashing glass for an emergency exit lever.

Guest Experience

A term that we come across more and more in all forms of business is guest experience or user experience, this is basically how our customers interact with a product, service or experience. 

It can make a huge impact on how something is perceived, and is important now more than ever in the hospitality industry.  

Creating a seamless guest experience and in turn hoping to get a good review or repeat customers is the aim of the game, we all know the classic sales formula that getting new customers is harder and more expensive than customer retention

Cleaning & Staff Access

Being able to get into all the rooms with certain ‘master keys’ is obviously ten times more effective than having a massive jangling key chain with a hundred different keys on it. 

Digital keys are much more secure as they can be deactivated if they are lost or fall into the wrong hands, a metal key could have serious ramifications if lost.

Obviously, we still have the ability to ‘double lock’ our rooms from the inside but being able to get into a room is important for not only cleaning but also security. 

Most, if not all hotels have some form of double lock, deadbolt or chain that keeps the person inside the hotel room secure in the thought that no one can get in.

Hotel Management

Often seen as a form of security, access control is also a form of management software that can help organise a hotel and have a range of benefits that reach past security. 

Having a much more efficient way to run the hotel and have better control on guest access, limiting external access and keeping checking in and out simple for everyone means your staff can focus on other priorities. 

Finding ways to get technology involved in the hospitality industry can seem counterproductive, but this shift is just how we expect service in the modern day and allows for better interactions when they organically crop up.

Taking the stress out of checking in and out allows for a smoother process for everyone involved and even leads to better guest satisfaction

 

How Does Access Control for Hotels Work?

We will briefly cover the basics of hotel access control systems and show how they can work in practice and a little background around some of the most popular methods used in hotels today.

The exact way access control for hotels works varies from technology to technology and even hotel to hotel, but the core concept is the same. Hotel access control is designed to grant digital access to locked doors, check in and check out easily without any hassle.

Guests are given their access control credentials (their equivalent of a key) which is often in the form of a keycard that can be put into your wallet or purse. We will be covering some of the most popular options within this section.

What Do the Access Control Credentials Do?

Access control for hotels works by utilising an access control system that is linked to all of the guest doors and often internal and external doors too, depending on the access level required. 

For most hotels only internal doors are ‘locked’ with an access control system, but in some locations external doors also will have a digital lock on too.

The software allows for the hotel reception to issue, manage and deactivate access control credentials for guests and staff using a reader, scanner or even just the software itself. 

Tapping a blank card against the reader on the computer allows it to have the information copied onto it and lets it work as a key to the guest’s room and other doors they may need to access.

Some access control systems will be linked to the lifts in the hotel too, meaning that non-guests or staff cannot traverse the floors. In addition, most of these cards will also power the room when placed into a slot by the front door. 

Contrary to popular belief this is just a system that requires any card sized item in the slot and often is not reading the card placed, just needs a weight or a laser to be broken to power the room. So next time, try your library card instead!

Hotel Access Control Systems - From Installation to Guests in 5 Steps

Let’s look at how a hotel can go from choosing to install an access control system to the guests being able to get into their rooms with hotel access control.

Step 1 Installation - the access control system is installed within the hotel and links all of the guest doors to the management system. Additional doors, lifts and even the room’s power can be controlled by the access control credential.

Step 2 Training - the staff are trained on how to issue the credentials, use the system and ensure that everyone understands the system from front of house to the cleaning staff to security.

Step 3 Management - the next step is managing the system and keeping it running smoothly, although it is a short learning curve there is always a little adjustment period. The system can be managed from the front of house terminals and the main office.

Step 4 Deployment - once the staff are comfortable with the system the guests can be issued with their room keys in whatever form the system depicts (i.e. key fobs, key cards or even passcodes).

Step 5 Access - the final step is the guests getting unbridled access to their rooms and the areas of the hotel such as the lifts, bar, restaurant and gym/pool if they are offered. Some hotels also utilise vehicle access control in the form of barriers or gates stopping unauthorised access.

Types of Hotel Access Control 

We will be focusing on quickly highlighting some of the most popular methods used in people access control for hotels, typically most hotels will use either key fob or proximity cards (or a similar credit card technology) so we will be covering those in the most detail.

 

Proximity Cards 

One of the most popular methods of access control for hotels are proximity cards, often referred to as prox cards for short these access control cards are a type of contactless entry credential that can digitally unlock a door.

As the name suggests, a prox card is the size and shape of a credit card and has the ability to be scanned without the user having to place it into a card reader.

Proximity cards have become synonymous with hotels in the last decade or so and have seen rapid growth within other industries too; Growth has been experienced because of the simplicity of use, set-up and management of these cards.

Prox cards are often paired with a form of identification to make a two in one card that serves as an form of access control credential but also as the staff’s ID. We are seeing this trend more and more with companies of all sizes deploying this method.

There are slight variations on access control card systems that can be deployed at a hotel, but for simplicity we are just focusing on prox cards as they are one of the most frequently used and reliable.

 

Key Fob Access Control 

People often comment on why this was not the natural evolution for all hotel access control due to its similarity with the traditional metal keys and plastic key fobs given out by hotels in the past.

When it comes to a simple and low cost form of security, hotels will often lean towards the highly effective and easy to manage key fob access control

Key fobs are exactly what they say on the tin, they are a small, often round form of access control that allows for the user to tap the centennial against the reader for access to their room within microseconds. 

The read range on a key fob is often a few centimetres as with a proximity card, so they are very effective and due to the lack of moving parts and sturdiness of their design, they often last a long time without needing to be replaced. 

We have seen a lot of industries pick up this form of access control from apartments to gyms, to schools and everything in between.

 

Passwords or PINs

Although this is a less commonly used form of access control, it can still be a viable solution for different sized hotels. In fact, a lot of Airbnbs and private rentals have started to use this form of access control for their property management

Hotels of all sizes can and do still deploy this form of access control, albeit less frequently seen. It is still a huge step above the traditional lock and key method and the now  near extinct method of metal keys.

Guests have no problem using this kind of system and from a management standpoint it is easy to control. Being able to ‘shut off’ access after X time or before X time is great.

 Take for example check out is at 11am, the PIN can be defunct as of 11.01am keeping a tighter control on your hotel guests and their check out times.

 

Vehicle Access Control 

Although we are focusing on people access control in this guide, we would be remiss to exclude a form of access control that affects the external of the hotel and that is parking management

Having better control over who has access to your hotel’s car park has a whole host of benefits from tighter security, to guest vehicles being more secure, to less likelihood of crime or break-ins, as some examples. 

Having a way to accurately manage your car park and even collect additional revenue gives a great incentive to implement a hotel parking system within your location.

There are a few different methods of managing the car park, from pay and display, pre-booking and even automatic number plate recognition (which does exactly what it does on the tin).

ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) is one of the most popular forms of vehicle access control and gives a lot of control over who can or can not access the hotel’s car park.

The Future of Access Control for Hotels 

As we have alluded to across the guide, there has already been a huge revolution in the hotel industry and a large number of hotels have looked into or even deployed access control systems.

With this being said, there’s always room for improvement and innovation, that is the aim of technology to make our lives simpler, save time and let us focus on other things.

It is hard to speculate where the industry will move to, but the biggest trend that will happen within the near future is the complete disposal of metal keys and traditional locks. 

In a lot of countries this has already become commonplace, with more developing nations innovating at faster rates and bridging the technology gaps rapidly. 

Ironically, being a generation behind in technology often means that developing countries will leapfrog past a certain technology and often be ahead of other places. 

A great example would be M-PESA a digital payment system popularised in Kenya by Vodafone that effectively skipped the need for credit or debit cards.

 

Benefits of Access Control System for Hotels 

This section is intended to give some broad strokes on the benefits of access control systems for hotels and should help give an overview of the kinds of benefits that can be obtained.

Needless to say, there are a lot of different benefits that come from various access control systems and there is a long list for each form of access control. 

With this being said, we will be covering access control as a whole and not lasering in on one type or another, so, the benefits will be more universal.

We have broken down the benefits into three core areas, security benefits, the often overlooked user benefits and then more general benefits of these systems. Without any further ado, let’s look at them.

Security Benefits of Hotels Access Control

 

Guest Management

Finding novel ways to keep a tighter rein on guests such as access control means you can have a much better idea of who is checked in, checked out or still has room access.

Being able to control when a key stops being active is a huge benefit of utilising access control systems within a hotel. Whether you are using a key fob, key card or even a PIN, there can be a timed slot when the guest can access their room (i.e. the check out window).

Private rentals such as Airbnb could also utilise this form of access control for their security and private property guest management

 

Significantly Less Chance of Break Ins

When we think of access control, we often forget that it is primarily a means of advanced security and screening. 

Having a form of hotel access control deployed there is much less likelihood of break ins and the removal of pickable locks.

The integrity of traditional locks have come into question time and time again, and the downfalls of metal keys have become overwhelming.

With access control for hotels, there is much less chance of these kinds of things happening and removal of these other additional issues that may arise. 

 

No Wasted Time or Compromised Security

The amount of times that metal keys were lost, misplaced or forgotten was getting to a boiling point, and that was one of many reasons that affected the decision to move to access control for a lot of larger hotels.

Each time a metal key was lost, there would need to be a new lock fitted and new copies of keys cut, this takes time and effort, but cannot be overlooked as the lost key could be used for nefarious means.

When it comes to access control, in the event of a lost keycard or other form of access control credential (the digital key issued to the guest) it can be easily deactivated and a new one issued, with no hassle at all. 

User Benefits of Hotels Access Control

 

Simple Check In & Out

From a guest perspective, the concept of an access control system in a hotel is a novel one that is incredibly user focused. 

We tend to overlook how useful and easy these systems are as a guest, but as soon as something is not there we realise how important it is or was.

Having a check in (and out) process makes the whole experience much nicer for a guest. Although some people value physical customer service, a lot of us have grown accustomed to having quick and contactless experiences with hotels.

 

Easy Room Access

Regardless of the type of access control the hotel deploys there are immediate benefits to the guest and even staff.

Having the ability to quickly and easily gain access to your room with a quick tap of a card (or similar credential) against the door reader (sometimes into the card slot) you are able to get into your room with a quick digital unlock.

Gone are the days of having to jangle a clunky key with a plastic keyring, in fact, a lot of people may not even know hotels to even have these kinds of things. 

Hotel access control has pushed out these archaic methods and removed the need for pigeon holes with the keys in them and a lack of overall security.

 

Replaces Outdated Technology

The hotel industry has had a massive overhaul and there are likely a lot of blasts from the past and old fashioned features that hotels will never do again, one of which being the use of old technology, such as keys.

Being a guest at a hotel in the modern era is very different to what it once was, and some newer guests may not even remember days when there were metal keys to get into a room. 

With the digital revolution, the older technology is replaced with much more guest focused systems, for example if you lose your key you can get a new one at the reception and they can deactivate the old one you lost in a click of a button.

General Benefits of Hotels Access Control

 

Fire & Emergency Safety

Being able to ensure your hotel is safe and efficient in the event of an emergency should be a top priority.

Guest and staff safety should always be something that is valued by a hotel, and the deployment of an access control system allows for an effective emergency response time.

In the unlikely event of an emergency, the system can be triggered to unlock external doors, internal doors or any other obstacles that hinder exit.

Being able to provide a simple and stress free exit when there is a problem can literally be the difference between life and death. The value of this in a hotel access control system should not be overlooked.

 

Around the Clock Access

Another general benefit of having a hotel access control system is the option of having around the clock access for whoever needs it. 

Whether it's 24/7 check in or out for guests so they can self check in or out; This is even more important in tourist destinations or near airports as people could be arriving at odd hours.

Having the additional ability to control when staff have access or where they can access allows for even more security and control. I.e. if a cleaner only works weekends, they can just be permitted on Saturday and Sunday.

 

Potential for Vehicle Access Control 

As we have alluded to there is a huge potential for the installation of vehicular access control within a hotel, if there is the need or space to deploy such a system.

These kinds of systems become more important in larger hotels or ones that are in close proximity to a city centre or other place people might try to park and walk away without being a guest.

There are a range of benefits that come from a vehicle access control system for a hotel and its importance cannot be overlooked.

 

What Do You Look For in the Best Access Control for Hotels?

Finding an access control system for your hotel is actually much simpler than deploying a system in a different environment as there are really a few major systems that are deployed, removing the hassle of choosing the wrong type.

In this section, we will give a few key points to consider when you are looking for the best hotel access control system.

A Solution That Works Well for Guests - at the end of the day, guests are what makes your business make money and creating meaningful experiences so people return or recommend your hotel is important. So keep the guests in mind when picking your access control system.

Improves Staff Efficiency & Service - we often forget that technology is designed to make our lives easier and not harder. So, as well as having a guest focus, think of how your staff will be affected by these systems. So, in short, find a solution that works for everyone.

Easy to Manage - as we mentioned above, finding ways that the access control system makes your life easier not harder is the name of the game. Find a system that is easy for you to manage and helps make security, guest management and organisation easier.

Helps to Improve the Hotel Security - all access control systems are much better than not having one due to the plethora of information that is available using them. If you pair your access control system with currently installed systems such as CCTV, you can have a much more secure and safe hotel.

 

Cost of Access Control Systems for Hotels 

Each hotel will have a unique set of costs for a plethora of reasons, and because of the nuances between different locations, volume of room, deployed technology and more there is no set price.

However, we thought we would highlight some different considerations you may want to think of when budgeting for your hotel access control.

  • How Difficult it Would be to Install (i.e. Level of Complexity)
  • Hospital Location (City Centre Vs Rural)
  • Amount of Entrances or Exits and Internal Doors
  • The Type of Locks Being Used on the Hotel Rooms (e.g. Traditional Lock and Key)
  • Local Rates for Installation
  • Amount of Rooms in the Hotel
  • Access Control System/s That Need to be Installed
  • Current Security Systems Installed at the Hotel
  • Budget for Security
  • Brand or Model of Access Control Technology Being Deployed
  • Potential to Add Vehicle Access Control as an Additional Security Layer

The above is just some examples of variables that might affect the cost, despite this, access control systems are only growing in popularity and have actually been part of the industry from the 90s and have been becoming more commonplace since. 

Hotels of any size can benefit from installing access control in one way or another, so this is just to give you an idea of what variables may be involved.

If you are looking for a more individual quote, reach out to our team today to get a much clearer picture for your hotel or private rental property.

Speculative Hotel Access Control Example

To put some of the above costs into perspective, we will put them into a speculative example for a medium sized hotel in a large UK city outside of London. 

This way we can see some examples of how the costs come together to shed a little more light on how much it costs to install hotel access control systems.

 

Guest Room Doors Access Control Installation: £250 - £500 per door x 100

 

Per Non Guest Door Access Control Cost: £2 - £5 per guest

 

Issuing Credentials to Staff: £2 - £4 per staff member


Maintenance (Yearly): £500 - £1500 per annum maintenance contract

 

Repair Costs: £80 - £120 per visit

 

Additional Costs: Replacement parts, readers, controllers etc, anywhere from £120 - £400 depending on what needs to be fixed 

 

Obviously, as we have discussed, this is just a very broad example of the costs for deploying access control into a hotel. Each case is entirely different and there are a lot of factors that could make it cost more or less.

 

Choose the Right Access Control System for Hotels 

Over the last decade or so, we have seen a dramatic shift in the types of systems that hotels are using for both their security and their room access solutions

Gone are the days when all hotels used metal keys on a little cheesy key ring to get into your room. In fact, there are a lot of things that we will probably never see again at hotels.

Maybe at some smaller establishments and hotels you may still come across plastic key rings, but as a whole, it has been significantly reduced. 

We have become much more accustomed to using newer forms of access control and different ways to get into our hotels and different locations, from apartments to gyms, to hospitals and everything in between.

Finding the right access control solution for a hotel can be overwhelming if you do not have the right information, and it is always important to look into the options available. With this being said, there are definitely a few solutions that are much more widely used within the hotel industry.

How We Can Help Your Hotel

What works for one hotel, may not be the right solution for another one, it is always important to understand what YOU are looking for and not what works for another location. 

Our UK based team has over 30 years experience in the security market, with a specialisation in access control systems. We would be more than happy to help you come to a decision that is best for you and aim to provide as much information as you need or want.

Feel free to reach out to our team using the link below and we will get back to you as quickly as we can!

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Why Should You Trust Us?

It seems that people and vehicle access control is an incredibly complex world using hard to understand technology, yet it impacts so many of the environments we interact with on a daily basis.

We are here to fill in the disconnect. We'll break down access control, the benefits, and drawbacks as well, including expert insight based on over 30 years experience in the industry operating as an independent British company. Our goal is to give you ALL the information so you know what's right for you.

Please consider subscribing or adding to the conversation in the comments below. We appreciate you taking the time to visit our resource centre.

Elliot Blackler

Elliot is the in-house content specialist at Nortech and runs all aspects of the resource hub. He's passionate about UK manufacturing and how modern content marketing can help bring light to complex industries.

Elliot works extensively with the Nortech team to shine a light on the access control industry for both installers and end users. Always keen to improve, feel free to email him on new content suggestions or feedback!

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