Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Embattled Swipe-Card Hotel Key

New York Times - THE magnetic hotel room key, one of the lodging industry's most popular but controversial creations, is losing some of its attraction.

New technology and old worries are edging the systems closer to extinction. Perhaps at no time will that be more apparent than at next week's International Hotel/Motel and Restaurant Show in New York, billed as the world's largest hotel industry event.

"Technology moves in cycles, and the cycle may be turning away from magnetic systems," said Richard Siegel, who publishes the trade magazine Hospitality Upgrade. "There are a lot of new technologies that hotels are intrigued by."

According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, 83 percent of hotels have electronic locks, and a majority of these use magnet swipe-card technology. No one expects these systems to vanish overnight. For one thing, they are cheap - plastic keys cost about 10 cents each. They are also a snap to use - just swipe the card through the reader and you are in your room. And they are without question more efficient than the old-fashioned, easy-to-lose metal keys.

But they also have a bad reputation among some business travelers. For several years, rumors have circulated on the Internet about privacy concerns with magnetic cards. The rumors appeared to originate in 1999, when the police department in Pasadena, Calif., investigated a claim that personal information had been extracted from a hotel key card. Officials ultimately concluded that private data was not being downloaded onto the cards.

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