Keeping Mobile Tech in Hotels Secure with Biometrics

By Court Williams Chief Executive Officer, HVS Executive Research | January 05, 2020

A big question currently facing the hotel industry is how to keep guests, employees, and data safe in our increasingly connected world. While mobile technology provides a vehicle for much of the progress, it can also provide the security methods needed to safeguard them in the form of mobile-based biometrics.

What Are Biometrics?

Biometrics are biological measurements or physical characteristics that can be used to identify individuals. Fingerprint mapping, facial recognition, and retina or iris scanning are all forms of biometric technology, but these are just the most well-known options.

Hollywood films have used biometrics in their storytelling for several years, but their efforts have been unsophisticated at best. Remember James Bond and the iris scans in Diamonds are Forever? The fact is, biometrics are making significant inroads in almost every industry, and hospitality is no exception.

Mobile biometrics, in particular, are scoring high on the list of popular authentication methods, partly because mobile phones are the devices we carry most often. In 2020, I expect hotels to start using mobile biometrics for a number of purposes, including financial security, inventory protection, staff management, and the safeguarding of privacy and personal information.

Hotel Security Needs are Growing 

With the current glut of data breaches experienced across all industries, the need to protect both company and guest information is increasing. It's not only about data security, however. One of the fundamental expectations of every hotel guest is personal privacy, but given the online marketplace for selling everything from credit card numbers to private photos, it's getting more and more difficult to achieve this.

Consider these potential scenarios: A hotel employee has access to connected devices in guest rooms, and installs a recorder to take candid photos of guests that are then sold on the Dark Web. A worker with ties to terrorism adds a deadly substance to a hotel's hot water supply, which causes multiple guest deaths before management even becomes aware of the problem. Or, as we have seen so often in the movies, a service employee is compromised and smuggles weapons into the hotel in a laundry or food cart.

Managing every possible risk without the help of technology is practically impossible, but we can make use of the one item almost every person on the planet carries-a biometrically-enabled mobile device.  

How Biometrics Work 

Biometrics currently come in two primary flavors: physical biometrics and behavioral biometrics. Physical biometrics include such popular ideas as facial recognition, digital fingerprint verification, nuanced voice authentication, iris scanning, and even vein recognition.

Behavioral biometrics are based on multi-dimensional intelligence, which uses machine learning to form conclusions based on a combination of human-device interactions, location, IP address, muscle memory, and behavioral habits.

Both of these methods can be used with mobile devices, through the development of apps such as Mobile Passport Control and the inclusion of sensors. These have the ability to track behaviors such as walking speed, the angle at which the user holds their smartphone, and the finger pressure used to type on the device, as ways to verify identity.

Some of the exciting developments happening in mobile biometrics currently include authentication based on lip motion and brain wave analysis that determines a user's mental state and approves access to resources on that basis.

Current Biometrics Usage in Hotels 

This might all sound rather sci-fi for the hospitality industry, but, in fact, hotels have been employing biometrics for some time already. Marriott hotels in China use facial recognition technology for check-in purposes, charging the room fee and deposit automatically to guests' Alipay accounts and providing the room key after identity verification. AccorHotels' loyalty program Le Club offers members a quiz about travel preferences, and then uses their webcam to monitor and analyze their heart rate based on their facial reactions to images.

The usage of biometrics in hotels isn't only on the customer-facing side, however. Many hotel chains use large-scale, organization-wide enterprise systems for their IT operations. These require exceptional cybersecurity, controlled user access, and extensive cloud computing capabilities. Implementing biometric authentication for these enterprise systems is an obvious solution to the risks facing every organization that needs to protect guests' personally identifiable information (PII) as well as its intellectual assets.

Moving to Mobile Biometrics 

Evolving cybersecurity threats, concerns regarding data security and privacy, and the increase in instances of security breaches in hospitality such as terrorist attacks and bombings are motivating hotels to find more reliable tools for managing identity and controlling access. The current shift towards password-less authentication needs innovative solutions, and according to the Identity Management Institute, mobile biometrics are emerging as an option to address the risks associated with traditional login methods. Today's mobile devices have the capability to be part of the user's identity, and to act as a login point or part of a series of identification factors in a multi-factor authentication (MFA) process.

One of the simplest ways hotels can use this technology is to enforce a biometric approval process through the user's mobile device before allowing an employee to access sensitive information. Whether approval depends on confirmation of walking style, facial recognition or lip motion, the unique identification ability is built into the mobile device. Some ways we could expect to see hotels using mobile biometric authentication in the very near future include staff timekeeping, monitoring of attendance during work time, and access to computers, networks, and servers.

Then there's the need for controlled access to critical data as well as physical areas, such as those where cash or alcohol are stored, or inventory of valuable room items. HR managers will be able to automate the monitoring of individual staff members' locations based on their mobile position. They might track the time workers spend on tasks like room cleaning, to identify any duration anomalies that could indicate problems-at least until room cleaning can be done entirely by robots.

Hotels are also embracing the Internet of Things for the benefit of guests, to adjust room temperature settings, lighting, voice-controlled room service, operate adjustable beds and other appliances. The risk scenarios outlined above show how important it is to restrict access to these appliances to vetted, authorized users, and we all know how many ways password-based logins can be compromised. A combined, multi-factor authentication (MFA) process using a password, retina scan via an app on a mobile device, plus transmission of the mobile device's location, can radically reduce the risk of unauthorized access to in-room appliances.

Many properties are combining augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for entertainment, convenience, and administrative purposes. AR-powered signage, for example, can help direct guests to check-in or pick-up locations, based on their mobile fingerprint and biometrically-verified identity. Guests can view realistic, virtual representations of celebrities, among other things, using their smartphone cameras. These activities typically require both a connection to the internet and a payment, or at least verification of their guest status-all of which can be provided by a biometrically-empowered mobile device that recognizes its user.

Accessing customized content often requires authentication, whether for hotel guests or employees, and mobile biometrics can provide those options irrespective of the user's nationality, current location or home country.

Benefits On Offer 

The closer the connection between biometric methods and the user, the greater the security. Since a user's personal mobile device is effectively a "closer" link to the individual than a hotel's facial recognition system, one of the benefits of going mobile is increased security of data, employees, guests, finances, and facilities. There are also the obvious benefits of having the built-in biometric ability to verify identity for the purpose of easier reservations, confirmation, check-in, and account payment options.

Both hotels and guests will score by having mobile biometrics make it faster and simpler to place secure orders of food and beverages. Options range from screens that welcome guests by name on their arrival in a hotel lobby using data from their phones, to accessing spa services, digital entertainment, and the use of AR and VR facilities, mobile will play a huge part. From a hotel management viewpoint, the workload required to record staff hours, vacation, sick time, or activities for compensation can be both vastly reduced and improved in accurac 

No Free Lunch

Of course, there's no such thing as a free lunch, and even the most advanced developments aren't without some disadvantages. Mobile biometrics, like any other technology, opens the door to the risks of cybercrime. As fast as we find ways to protect networks, criminals develop new ways to attack them.

Privacy is a huge consideration, such as securing PII on mobile devices against the risk of loss or theft, while still making it possible to access the device easily for personalized daily use. Research from SmarterHQ shows 72% of consumers will only engage with marketing that is personalized to their interests, while 86% don't want to provide their personal information because of privacy concerns. This creates a major conundrum for the hospitality industry.

Then there's the security risk. Users can't be expected to carry the entire responsibility for security themselves. The "arm's length" relationship between the personal devices of staff or guests and hotel management makes it unrealistic for the latter to assume complete responsibility, which means a grey area exists. Hotels could take a page from the financial industry's playbook, which currently holds the competitive edge by taking precautions to protect both their customers' account information and the biometrics used for identification.

There's also a compelling need for robust protection against malware, which is a major issue currently for mobile apps, and the rapid changes in regulatory requirements that occur as authorities in various countries attempt to exercise individual preferences.

What Mobile Biometrics Mean for Hotels

Guests are increasingly expecting hotels to be able to offer the very latest in technology and security. At this point, mobile biometrics are the most advanced way to achieve these. There are many implications for the industry, starting with the need for extensive capital investment to buy and configure the necessary software, and, in some cases, hardware.

In terms of staffing, this indicates a clear need to employ highly-qualified workers and more tech-savvy hotel staff -at all levels. It will also be essential to retrain existing employees to function in the connected world, while still exhibiting the communication and client service skills they will need during the transition period.

Hotels will likely encounter some opposition from employees, which they will have to address by getting legal advice, revising contractual terms and conditions, and revisiting future employment requirements. This could have the broader effect of impacting labor regulations, raising a number of questions, and putting the hotel industry into a state of flux. All of this will take time, during which hotels are at risk for any of the problems identified here.

I'm not suggesting mobile biometrics are the final solution to these issues, by any means. But as one of the most adaptable and developing technologies available right now, I believe the vibrant hotel industry can expect to see real action in this area in 2020. The sooner hotel executives factor these possibilities into their thinking, the more ready their companies will be to hit the ground running. 

Mr. Williams Court Williams is Chief Executive Officer of HVS Executive Search based in New York and has over 29 years of retained Hospitality Executive Search experience within the Hotel, Restaurant, and Travel/Leisure industries. He began his career in the restaurant industry after graduating from Cornell's Hotel School gaining operational experience prior to launching a career track in Human Resources with an international restaurant company. Having gained experience in executive recruitment from the brand side, the desire to work with a broader range of hospitality clients led Mr. Williams to a career in retained executive search beginning in 1990. Mr. Williams has expertise in leading senior hospitality executive searches across all functional areas including Board Director, CEO, Operations, Human Resources, Marketing, Finance, Development, Culinary and Supply Chain. His client base includes private equity firms, hotel management companies, restaurant companies, travel technology brands and leisure venues. Mr. Williams can be contacted at 516-248-8828 x220 or cwilliams@hvs.com Please visit http://www.hvs.com for more information. Extended Biography

HotelExecutive retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.

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If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.

12. PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION

Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

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Coming up in February 2020...

Social Media: Social Listening Tools

The reach and influence of social media is staggering. Nearly 3 billion people use social media daily, posting a range of messages, selfies, images, and everything in-between. According to HubSpot, almost 4 million posts are uploaded to the major social networks every single minute! That's an astounding amount of content and it is crucial for hotels to skillfully use social media in order to effectively compete. From establishing a suitable brand identity and voice to creating content across all the major networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.), the goal is to actively engage consumers and to eventually convert them to customers. Some hotels are initiating online contests as a way to attract new customers, while others are rewarding customers with discounts who subscribe to the their email lists or follow their social media pages. Another recent strategy is to employ social media listening tools that track what people are posting online about their businesses. These tools allow hotels to monitor - or listen to - what's being said about a brand across the entire social web, and this can prove to be very valuable, unfiltered information. Social listening permits hotels to be aware of people's opinions about their business, industry or competitors, and some of these tools even listen beyond social media platforms. They also monitor publicly available information on blogs, forums, news outlets and websites. Some listening tools are more focused on gathering and analyzing data, while others offer more engagement-oriented features, which allow hotels to interact with people right from the platform. Often the information that is gleaned from these listening tools ends up being the most authentic, unbiased insights a business can get. The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to successfully integrate social media strategies into their operations.