In recent years, the vacation rental industry has been one of the fastest growing sectors in tourism worldwide. When presented with this new niche of opportunity, numerous tech companies jumped on the bandwagon and started to flood the market with technological solutions such as digital locks, also known as “smart locks”.
At Solaga Holiday Homes, before making any drastic decision in changing the way we had been running our business to date, we decided to ask your guests (via survey) whether they preferred a personalized check-in, or rather a self check-in through a smart lock device when renting a holiday home. A whopping 72%, that is over 7 in 10 guests, responded that they prefer a personal check-in over a self check-in, i.e. not use a smart lock.
According to numerous smart lock providers, such as Operto, Staymyway and Hoomvip, the benefits of using a smart lock are the following: Digital Check-in, Guest App, Mobile Keys and Guest Comfort. Let's go through these so-called benefits one by one.
Digital check-in and verification of guest ID
Legal requirements that affect vacation rentals may differ depending on where the property is located. Our company, Solaga, is based in the province of Malaga, region of Andalusia, Spain. According to regional laws, homeowners and property managers, are legally bound to register every guest above the age of 16 with the Spanish National Police. Police sources recently confirmed to us that a digital check-in is accepted by law, but that for public safety, private hosts or property managers must verify every guest ID in person at the time of check-in. Naturally, anyone can easily do a digital check-in through an App, but according to the Police, it is a requirement to verify that the person staying in the apartment is indeed the guest that did the digital check-in. And that’s of course something that can only be done via human interaction through a personal check-in.
Keyless system for holiday rentals
Many homeowners or property managers see benefits in offering a keyless system for their guests. For instance, it happens on occasions that guests lose their set of keys during their vacation, which means that you find yourself in a position where you have to change your locks for security reason. In this particular instance, digital locks seem to be a good invention, but that’s about it!
These digital locks operate using Bluetooth technology or Internet access via a guest App provided by the smart lock company. Our experience is that the App usually ends up generating an endless list of problems for the guests.
7 in 10 guests guests prefer a personal check-in over a self check-in
Guest experience is crucial for homeowners and property managers alike as it helps create positive reviews. As such, any change in operating procedures should be in line with your guests’ preferences.
In 2020, right after the pandemic, it sounded like a good idea to test so-called smart lock technology. After all, in the era of social distancing, it sounded like the way to go to reduce human interaction. We therefore decided to try out two different companies in a selection of our apartments.
We found that many of our guests experienced difficulties using the App which on many occasions failed to work due often due to poor Internet connection. This generated endless phone calls to our emergency phone, and required our staff to go to the apartment to resolve the problem, often in the evenings or even in the middle of the night. Not to talk about non-European visitors who were not thrilled at all to activate their phone data (very costly) simply to open a door.
As a result of this painful experience, we decided after a year to remove the smart locks, and went back to what our guests wanted: a personalized check-in with human interaction. If 7 in 10 guests prefer a personal check-in over a self check-in, we simply cannot ignore that.
Homeowners and property managers responsibility
Throughout the world, the holiday rental industry is subject to different laws and regulations which are constantly evolving and in many cases are becoming tougher. It can be challenging to find a sustainable model of business for holiday homes, but it is paramount to take into consideration all parties: neighbors, communities, homeowners, guests, competitors and property managers. And of course, we need our local politicians to take action when needed.
As a homeowner or property manager, it is also our responsibility to make sure that holiday rentals cause the least amount of disturbance to neighbors, especially in residential buildings. As such, smart locks are definintely not the way to go.
Digital locks are not the future for a sustainable tourism
Apart from the fact that an immense majority of guests prefer a personal touch, there are other considerations you need to take before installing a digital lock.
A personal check-in will without any doubt create stronger relationships between you and your guests which in turn will provide more repeat customers. A digital lock will mean the exact opposite for you.
We all know that direct bookings are increasingly important for homeowners and property managers. By installing smart lock technology, you will simply end up giving a larger chunk of your business to third party giants (Airbnb, Booking.com). Again, not a wise move.
Throughout the world, regulations seem to be getting tougher for holiday rental apartments. The future of our industry is in danger if we don’t all participate in finding the right solutions.
Based on our experience, smart locks are simply not a smart move. Not only do they end up causing more work and headaches for your team, but also for your guests. More importantly, they can cause a series of problems for your neighbors in residential buildings, which will only result in the end in tougher regulations, not to mention a possible ban in certain areas as it is already the case.
While we all see the benefits of technology, on occasions, the human touch can simply not be replaced. We would like to hear your comments, experience and suggestions on this matter.
Please leave a comment.