Hilton Worldwide has announced that it will permit guests to use their personal smartphones as room keys at its more than 4,000 hotels and timeshare properties around the world as part of efforts to digitise the company's global operations for the convenience of guests.

Hilton hopes the majority of its 650,000-plus rooms scattered across 93 countries around the globe will be able to make use smartphones in lieu of physical keys by the end of 2016.

Christopher J. Nassetta, Hilton Worldwide president and CEO, said the decision follows several years spent trialling various access control methods, which is now culminating in the development of the company’s own proprietary security technology involving the use of smartphones.

Hilton’s announcement also follows concerted efforts by the access control sector to promote smartphones as the keys of the future, given the increased convenience and flexibility that the devices afford users, as well as recent advances in networking technology such as near field communications (NFC) and Bluetooth.

While such efforts have failed to achieve much headway until now, the adoption of the measure by a hotelier as large and renowned as Hilton could give huge boost to the use of access control technology in the hospitality sector.

Terry Gold of security and privacy consultancy IDanalyst, views Hilton’s decision as part of an ongoing trend amongst large companies to incorporate as many functions as they can into personal smartphones in order to cater to the growing expectation amongst users that the devices should serve as omni-competent tools.

“Each one of us…[wants] everything on our mobile,” said Gold. “I think Hilton’s announcement just further validates large organisations agreeing with that and they see the same thing from their consumers.”

The tipping point for adoption of the measure is likely to arrive once the hoteliers and accommodation vendors realise that cards, keypads and FOBs have become obsolete tools in light of the increased functionality of smartphones, which dispense with the cost and administrative burden of additional access control items.

While concerns still linger over the security of mobile network devices, Gold said the use of smartphones for access control purposes would mark a major improvement over the magstripe card readers which have proven so popular in modern hotels, yet suffer from major security shortcomings.

“The magnetic stripe is not secure at all from a card standpoint,” said Gold.

Hilton has remained mum on the proprietary technology it is developing for the use of smartphones as keys, but Gold speculates that the safest and most efficient method would be for the devices to first call some type of central access control system instead of relying on a time and counter system.