Why Lockboxes and Keys Are Vacation Rental Operational Nightmares

“I’ve always loved traveling and adored inviting travelers to Detroit to help them fall in love with the city as well. Starting CozyHaus allowed me to get back to my hospitality roots and invite travelers from all over the world,” says Danielle Dirks, who founded CozyHaus as a single Airbnb unit in 2017.

The South Florida native began working in hospitality at the grand old age of eight, picking crabs for a local seafood restaurant; and then continued to work in resorts, hotels, and restaurants to put herself through college and graduate school.

She then became a professor in Los Angeles, a research consultant in Detroit, and a Guest Experience Director at Mint, but her dream of personally hosting guests never wavered.

She remembers: “I felt so much joy hosting my first Airbnb guests. This all began when I first listed my Detroit loft on Airbnb. I promptly kicked myself out of my home as it booked up solidly for the next three months. I then started renovations on a second and third loft.”

But opening her home and city to explorers wasn’t always the dream she had imagined. 

Logistical issues and security concerns caused by insecure lockboxes and old-fashioned, physical keys nearly derailed the business before it even got going.


Credit: CozyHaus.co

Lockboxes: ‘Operational nightmares’

Before making the switch to Operto’s vacation rental technology, like so many other rental hosts before her, Dirks found that using such a clunky, old-fashioned access system was causing more problems than it solved.

Vacation rental lockboxes: Wasting time and money

Instead of focusing on giving her guests great experiences, she was instead forced to waste time issuing complicated lockbox instructions for key codes; and dealing with the added costs and stress of lost, stolen, or locked-in keys; as well as key codes that didn’t change automatically after the guests left, creating an added security concern.

Complicated staff onboarding and extra friction

Bringing new staff on board was a major headache due to the complicated, clunky system; and coordinating access to the room—especially if something went wrong—was a real game of cat-and-mouse.

She says: 

“I recall the old operational nightmares our team and our guests faced if someone misplaced a key in a lockbox or forgot an item upon checking out". 

Danielle Dirks

CozyHaus Founder

“Those keys and lockboxes slowed down our operations significantly and created so much friction when onboarding new cleaning team members.”

Zero “smart” connectivity

The old “dumb” locks didn’t connect to any of Dirks’ booking systems and relied on insecure lockboxes and unchanging keycodes to make sure that guests could access their rooms.

Dirks couldn’t see who had checked in or out and had to rely on having staff on-site to physically check if guests needed help, had forgotten something, had got locked out, or were overstaying their welcome.

Lockboxes can’t grant automatic access to staff, or change a keycode or lock automatically if a security risk becomes apparent. With physical keys and lockboxes, guests have to be manually given a keycode and be trusted not to lose or steal the key, and to replace it in the exact same place when they check out. 

Lockboxes are also—obviously—not connected to any other booking details or communication about the stay or rental, and none of the guest, access, or property details are available to view in a central place. They have all of the stresses and none of the simple advantages that modern guests today expect.

This makes them—as Dirks remembers—a total “nightmare”.


The seamless alternative to lockboxes and keys

But since making the switch to Operto’s digital platform, including its keyless technology and property management system, these problems are a thing of the past.

Fewer staff and simplified operations

As an Operto partner, CozyHaus now has a super-lean operational model and has used seamless technology to simplify operations completely. 

It now employs just one part-time property manager per 12 units, offering contactless check-in, keyless entry, and digital customer service; all connected via super-fast WiFi.

Better guest experiences

With Operto, guests are given access codes instantly after booking, with a personalized email welcome so they can check-in easily upon arrival. And, because Operto uses keypads and codes, rather than a smartphone-dependent keyless system, guests can check in even if their smartphone is out of juice.

Operto also offers hosts the option to enable guests to tailor their room throughout their stay, by using the Operto ConnectTM guest portal to change the heat, AC, and lighting, for example.

From the keyless check-in, during the stay, to the easy check-out and beyond, guests have all the information they need to know in one, easy-to-use page on their phone. No one even needs to download a separate app to use it; Operto operates via a normal browser.

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One recent guest, J. Rastatt from Germany, called the check-in “absolutely uncomplicated” and said it offered such security and peace-of-mind that they “fell asleep comfortably and calmly after a long journey”.

Another guest, J. Huntsville from Alabama, said that “getting into the apartment was a breeze”.

Just as they have come to expect at home, CozyHaus guests are always in control—with the welcome addition of extra-special luxuries a professional rental can provide.

Streamlined staff

Staff are also given their own personalized codes for super-fast access when necessary and are kept in the loop with check-ins and check-outs automatically, with notifications and updates at all times. 

And Dirks can now see what’s happening with her rentals—at all stages—in a single glance.

Dirks says: “Now we can simply pull out a phone, and let someone in remotely if needed. It’s allowed our building partners to perform their routine maintenance seamlessly. It’s also allowed us to estimate cleaning and turnover times too.”

Rapid expansion

Less than five years after first opening her rental loft, Dirks is now managing and developing a 140-unit short, mid and long-term rental business across the US, focused on offering modern, calming, and energizing stays for “lifelong travelers, thinkers, doers, and creatives”.

Digitizing everything has also allowed Dirks’ rental businesses to rapidly scale further afield. Bringing on new, cost-effective team members to help her scale is now simple and straightforward too.

Connect your operations

Ready to get rid of insecure and time-wasting keys and lockboxes?


Before (the nightmare of lockboxes and keys)

After (with Operto’s seamless automation technology)


Insecure lockboxes, issues with lost or stolen keys, no communication with housekeeping.

Guests receive their code in advance and can get straight in when they arrive. Stays are coordinated with housekeeping.


Guests are required to leave the keys where they found them. Could accidentally lose the keys, or walk off with them. 

Creates a security risk and issues for later access.

Guests leave when they like, simply using the code behind them. 

No key issues for future access. Codes change automatically for security.


Old systems had no communication with housekeeping, so everything was manual, slow, and clunky.

Housekeeping and maintenance staff all connected to the same system, so can see when they need to go in instantly.

Staff onboarding

Staff training is more complicated. Guests may worry about trust.

Staff training simple and intuitive using the Operto platform. Only authorized people can enter.

Extra costs

Replacing lost or stolen keys and changing locks. Time wasted. More staff needed to help guests check in.

Initial cost to install Operto. Low running costs. Fewer staff needed. No new locks or keys required. Time saved.

Security risks

Keycode doesn’t change causing future security issues. Lost or stolen keys.

Access can be enabled and disabled instantly. No keys to lose or steal. Keycodes change.

Guest information

Kept separately and not connected to their check-in or stay digitally.

Kept in their online booking, with all their contact details automated for better relationship building, and personalized stays.

Guest communication

Not digitally connected. Manual and haphazard, on a different system.

All within the same Operto system.  Guests receive automated emails after, during, and before booking. Uses their smartphone on the same single platform.

In-room guest experience

Not connected to the check-in or key access. No special touches automated with check-in, or personal communication beforehand. No possibility of connecting the booking to personalized smart devices.

Smart devices connected to the same single system mean guests can personalize the room, with thermostats and AC. Receive personalized emails and communication from booking onwards.

Adapting to challenges and Covid safety

Not possible, or less so. Relies on insecure lockboxes and more likely to need face-to-face contact with staff on-site in case of issues.

Everything managed remotely with no face-to-face contact required. All systems digital and remote.

Ease of expansion

Clunky and awkward. Requires more staff to be on-site. Less flexible. Relies on a rigid business model structure.

Adaptive and agile business structure using tech to coordinate new hires and properties.

Overall management and owner experience

Requires people to be on-site to manage. No communication or connection with guests or staff, no “linked up” process to oversee the entire booking. Needs more staff; more time wasted on managing bookings and problems. More worry about security and key issues.

Extra worry, stress, hassle, and cost.

Able to oversee the entire rental management system at a glance from start to finish. Everything contained in the same platform and connected digitally. Able to manage and update remotely. Easy, simple, secure, safe, modern.

Replacing lockboxes: A real security upgrade

Upgrading from insecure and old-fashioned lockboxes isn’t only about making access easy. 

It’s also about addressing possible security risks and allowing Dirks to give guests and staff total peace of mind.

With Operto, all access to the rental spaces can be programmed in advance—and turned off in an instant too—by issuing unique access codes solely to the people who are permitted to enter, such as booked-in-advance guests, and authorized staff.

With keys either on guests’ and staff’s smartphones, or accessible through keypad codes, there’s no risk of a key “going missing”, being lost, or random members of the public entering the space. 

Security is tighter, staff and guests have peace of mind, and access can be managed completely remotely in just a few taps. 

Keycodes change with every stay and staff member—and can even be changed mid-stay—meaning that previous guests can’t return uninvited, or share codes with unauthorized persons.

This gets rid of the security nightmares inherent to lockboxes and physical keys in one move.

As Dirks says: “Detroit is what most would consider a high-risk market, where lots of folks find ‘innovative’ uses for short-term rentals to run illicit enterprises. 

“Operto adds an unbeatable layer of security to ensure physical keys don’t walk off, check-ins and check-outs can be easily viewed and logged, and door codes can be updated or deleted if and when needed.

“More than anything else, Operto has provided our guests with the peace of mind in knowing that their door code is unique to them and that, unlike a hotel, staff can’t just waltz in". 


CozyHaus Founder

“For our particularly security-minded guests, we’ve been able to easily update their door codes mid-stay and an additional layer of protection for them as well.”


Switching to software: Agile and adaptive

Digital automation software such as Operto’s has not only improved CozyHaus’ guest experience and security; it has also been able to react quickly to new and ongoing challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

In contrast to old-fashioned systems that rely on face-to-face key handovers and less-than-sanitary lockboxes, Operto’s remote, contactless system means CozyHaus could quickly offer safe and streamlined stays with minimum face-to-face contact, giving guests peace of mind. 

She says: “Our quick pivot allowed us to open our spaces for first responders including nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and other volunteers serving on the frontlines. Detroit was an epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis and we felt more comfortable helping long-term guests and keeping our guests, neighbors, and team safe.”

Its use of hyper-connected and agile Operto technology even allowed the group to create a contact-free linen exchange system, to ensure fresh, high-thread-count linens were delivered to frontline staff guests who were working long hours and worried about in-person contact. This system continues today.

Operto’s system means that staff and guests can eliminate human contact completely, while still keeping everyone up-to-date with check-ins, check-outs, and housekeeping times.

Tech advantage: Pivoting to perfection

Tapping into the power of Operto’s agile and adaptive technology has not only solved Dirk’s nightmare problem of lockboxes and physical keys for rental stays; it’s also allowed CozyHaus to thrive during possibly the most difficult year for hospitality in recent memory.

By leveraging Operto’s technology creatively, CozyHaus was able to pivot even further in response to Covid, for maximum success.

It now uses Operto’s system to rent its space out for hourly rentals—rather than the usual overnight stays—for creative projects such as photoshoots.

“We’ve been doing that non-stop since the short-term rental restrictions have been loosened in the state of Michigan,” explains Dirks. “Operto allows us to maximize our revenue as what we used to charge per night we now charge per hour.”

Digitizing your rental: Contactless doesn’t mean faceless

And contactless technology doesn’t have to mean “faceless”, clinical, or cold; quite the opposite. This is a real plus for someone who loves hosting as much as Dirks. 

As she explains: “We routinely check in with guests by text and email; offer to help with groceries and pet care; and leave contact-free goodies such as freshly ground coffee beans from our amazing partners—including Creation Coffee, Fuerza Coffee, and James Oliver Coffee—as well as fancy chocolates, and Korean beauty sheet masks for self-care.”

It’s clear that by leveraging Operto’s vacation rental operational efficiency, Dirks has been able to focus on what she originally set out to do; offer memorable, personal, and special stays to her guests.

CozyHaus now offers bright, airy, luxurious, and modern vacation rental space specially designed for creative, curious people, with caring touches throughout.

By partnering with Operto, Dirks has finally managed to leave the nightmare logistics and security risks of lockboxes and old-fashioned keys behind and has instead ensured her business has thrived and even improved, over a historically tough period.

She says: “I have become the consummate hostess my friends had enjoyed for years, helping guests with everything from dinner parties to off-the-beaten-path travel itineraries. Hosting has changed my life.”

Connect your operations

Ready to get rid of insecure and time-wasting keys and lockboxes?