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The Evolution of Hotel Keys

This entry was posted on 29th March 2018.

Over the centuries hotels have not only advanced in facilities but also in the technology they use, one of which is the hotel key.


In this article we’ll take a look at the security and evolution of the humble hotel key; how facilities have improved the whole check-in experience and how cards have done this! The first UK hotel dated back to 1768 located in Exeter, this was the start of hotels as we know them today. Following the success of this, we saw a number of hotels popping up in the 19th century

Physical Keys

Until the late 1960’s/early 70’s, metal keys were the only available option for hotels to keep their guests safe. They were used for their guest’s rooms and written notes or books where kept for guest’s information. Image visiting a hotel nowadays and them writing your details in a book at the front desk… you wouldn’t be happy with all your personal information being so easy to steal and replicate. When keys were issued this way, they would typically have the room number attached to a key ring, to enable guests to leave the key at reception whilst out of their room and staff to easily find them again. Physical keys are easily lost, expensive to replace and this is also a very time-consuming process. Not to mention, if a guest loses a key with the room number on you’d also have to replace the lock mechanism!

Punch Cards

So, on to punch cards, a thing of the 1970’s & 80’s! Who remembers a punch card? If you do drop us a comment below. Punch cards were often made from metal or plastic and had a series of holes in them that enabled it to be inserted into a locking mechanism, opening a rooms door. Punch cards were the next step in the hotel security industry, they had a total of 32 holes giving a possible 4.2 billion combinations, so no keys were the same. This was a big step up for security in the 1970’s which made them slightly more secure than metal keys.

Magstripe Cards

In the 1980’s hotels moved away from punch cards and on to magstripe cards, these are still being used in hotels today. These cards weren’t originally created for the use of unlocking doors but for data storage, which eventually became the breakthrough technology behind credit & debit cards and building access credentials; following this the hotel industry implemented magstripe cards as their access key for guests. Moreover, when magstripe cards were introduced they were a highly secure alternative to the previously used punch cards. In today’s world, magstripe cards are quite easily hacked allowing the hacker to gain access to rooms and even transfer loyalty card points, for example. Magstripe cards are less expensive than keys as they do not have to be re-cut, just deactivated when lost and replaced with a new one. Guests can also have the cards stored easy in their wallet or purse which is more convenient when they venture out of the hotel.

Contactless & RFID

Over the centuries you can see how far we have come in the security and ease of use when it comes to room access in hotels. These days, the predominant technology behind room access is RFID, or contactless cards as they are more commonly known. These allow for a multitude of applications such as room access, cashless vending and entrance to onsite facilities, such as a gym or leisure area. With contactless technology having such a short read range, a hacker would have to be unpleasantly close to you for them to access the information, even if they did personal details are not kept on the card and are often stored on a secure system separately. The read range makes it almost impossible to access your data as you would be very aware of someone being so close to you! Furthermore, the chip is not active unless activated by taping on to a reader or NFC device. It is designed for scalable security and maintains a wide range of globally trusted countermeasures such as mutual authentication, message authentication and data encryption. Have these countermeasures ensures there is a trusted communication channel, each message is protected and data on a contactless interface is protected from hackers. So, in short, you can sleep soundly knowing your guests are safe. In addition to contactless cards such as those by Universal Smart Cards, the latest evolution of contactless technology now supports not only cards, but mobile devices!

From physical keys to punch cards, magstripe cards and now contactless, you can really see the evolution security in hotel room access, but we can’t wait to see what’s coming next!

If you would like any more information regarding how Universal Smart Cards can help your establishment contact us on 0333 700 0078 or email [email protected] and a member of our experienced team will be happy to assist you.

This entry was posted on Universal Smart Cards Blog.

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