The Evolution of Hotel Room Keys: From Metal to Digital

The Evolution of Hotel Room Keys: From Metal to Digital

Since inns and hotels have been in existence, there’s been safety concerns for both people and valuables alike. For ages, metal keys filled the security void when not many other options were as durable or functional. Now that the digital age is here, it may strike you as curious that we’ve transitioned so far from this basic model. Here you’ll find out why keys have evolved from analog to digital in order to provide safer stays for both you and your stuff.

The Era of Trustworthy Metal Keys

Even though security has been the number one reason for trustworthy metal keys through history, there are plenty of situations that call this practice into question. Physical metal keys can be lost or accidentally taken no matter how large or overt their keychain is, and this is a huge inconvenience to the concierge keeping track of each room. Add in the idea that keys can easily be mixed up and lead to confusion and lock outs and you can see why this practice has historically required a massive amount of attention and effort.

Old Hotel Keys

Transitioning to Key Cards: A New Dawn

Despite the eventual switch to key cards, hotel room key cards weren’t the most easily accepted by many parties at first. Isolated introductions were made by IBM and a handful of other companies in the 1970s, and these attempts garnered mixed results from both hotel staff and patrons. Since this was closer to the dawn of the computing age, these technologies were both new and relatively expensive. Because of this, it wasn’t until the 1980s that key cards began to be adopted by larger hotel chains and the switch began slowly.

The Rise of Digital Hotel Keys

The 1980s and 90s saw wide scale adaptation to this new locking system in hotels that offered higher security and enhanced convenience. Instead of handling a lost key like before, a new key could be easily programmed with the credentials to access the room in only a few minutes. This method has stood the test of time until the last decade or so, when some hotels began their switch to the latest technology by providing digital hotel keys instead.

Hotel Keys

Advantages of Digital Keys Over Traditional Hotel Keys

Though not fully widespread as of 2024, digital hotel keys are the next logical step in the search for the most secure hotel key. Much like virtual boarding passes, digital keys are convenient since they remain on a user’s smartphone and can be used throughout the traveler’s stay without any pieces to lose. These days it’s hard to find someone that doesn’t have a smartphone attached to their hand, and thanks to convenient apps, it’s easy to see why digital keys are most likely the wave of the future.

The Future of Hotel Security

Advancements like these cut down on costs and resources for hotels, since keeping blank keys and the associated equipment around is still a requirement otherwise. When compared to smartphones which only require software and someone to activate it, the eventual switch is a no brainer. Though it may be years before digital keys see full implementation like hotel key cards did, this innovative entry method provides both convenience and security that will continue to evolve as we do.

Custom Keys

For a deeper dive into the story of traditional house keys and how they've shaped our understanding of security and privacy, check out our comprehensive guide on the evolution of house keys.
Back to blog