Smart Locks vs Electronic Locks for Boutique Hotels

If you’re struggling to staff your front desk, you’re probably noticing a number of common issues. 

During busy periods, you’ll quickly see long lines of arriving guests develop as customers wait to get checked in. Also, your staff may seem stressed—manually granting access involves too much admin for them to develop a rapport with the guests they’re serving.

You probably know that a digitized guest journey could help you resolve these issues. Among other benefits, it allows you to reduce pressure on your front desk by creating a streamlined self check-in process. 


But are electronic locks what you need, or do you need to pay the high upfront costs for smart locks to fully optimize the guest experience and staff morale?


In this article, we provide clarity on different lock types and explain how to upgrade to the best access solution for operational efficiency and guest experience—and how you can save on costs in the process. 

Turn your existing locks into smart locks without the costs or hassle of replacing any hardware.

Learn more about Operto Boost

Smart and electronic locks definitions and main differences

Understanding electronic and smart door locks can be confusing, especially since “smart locks” is a term more often associated with smart home devices than hotel access systems. Smart systems do come with a range of advantages, though, so it pays to have a clear understanding of the difference before choosing which door lock works for you.


What is an electronic lock?

Electronic locks are any type of lock that include a digital feature. Think touchscreen keypads, biometric access, and flashing LEDs. 


But the most common types of electronic hotel locks use magnetic stripe and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) readers, pulling through check-in information from a centralized access system either from a wired or wireless connection.


Then, when the keycard is inserted into or held within close proximity of the reader, as long as the information matches, the door unlocks.


What is a smart lock?

Smart locks connect to your access system, usually via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but also to management software. This allows you to manage access remotely, gain additional data about occupancy, and improve the guest experience by facilitating streamlined, no-touch, keyless check-in. 


What’s the main difference between a smart lock and electronic lock?

The key distinction between smart and electronic locks is that smart locks can unlock using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology, while electronic locks require some form of physical interaction or proximity to the key.  


Usually, electronic locks work through a code that’s entered on the keypad or communicated through NFC (near-field communication or short-range wireless technology). More evolved models include biometric systems that scan the user’s fingerprints for added security. So, though electronic locks can still be wireless, smart locks have the following extra features:  


  • They can unlock from anywhere in the world via a connected management platform. 
  • Unique access credentials that are only valid for specific periods (for instance, for maintenance teams or bookings) can be automatically generated.
  • Guests can easily access their rooms via a digital key, access link, or app on their smartphone.
  • You have complete visibility over every time someone enters or leaves the property/room via entry logs.

We explore more about how these locks integrate with your access systems to offer this additional functionality further below. 


Why hotels need locks with connectivity

With labor shortages across the hospitality industry and guest expectations influenced by the rise of the short-term rental market, hotels need to increase guest independence and take workloads away from their teams. A digital access control system enables this by simplifying the management process and offering self check-in. 


Combining smart locks with management software allows you to create a frictionless self-check-in process. With Operto it works like this:


  • Operto syncs with your digital locks and PMS
  • When guests book, they’re sent a link to a branded web app, Operto Guest
  • Inside your web app, they verify their identity and complete a security deposit
  • Their automatically generated code or mobile key is then activated activated based on their check-in time
  • Using your digital guide within the same web app (discussed in more detail later), guests can independently begin their stay with all the information you choose to share 

Not only does this deliver a fantastic guest experience, but it also means you no longer have to operate your front desk 24/7.


We spoke with the founder of Roomza, Curtis Crimmins, to see how our technology helps their streamlined team run 60 rooms with no front desk. Read it here.


The benefits of smart locks 

Smart locks can transform your guest experience and bottom line when integrated with hotel technology. We explore how, below. 


Guest experience tools

With self check-in, guests avoid the frustration of lost keys and long lines at the front desk. But an integrated guest experience solution also allows you to improve their experience with your hotel before they even arrive.  

Inside Operto Guest, for example, you can create branded digital guidebooks with all the information they could need during their stay. In one place, they can see arrival and parking information, Wi-Fi codes, details on digital check-in, links to local services such as guided tours and equipment hire, and more.

Screenshot of Operto Guest’s smart buttons.
You can include smart buttons with links to services inside Operto’s guidebooks.

Occupancy data

You can understand who’s in your property at all times with live occupancy data. As well as allowing you to see that guests have checked in ok, this can help you resolve potentially costly issues. For example, if a cleaner reports a crack in a smart television screen, you can check the full history of room access. 


Enhanced occupancy data also reduces pressure on your team. When a guest checks out, for example, the management system can trigger a notification. Then, your housekeeping team can begin turnover ahead of time. 


Reduced costs

Smart locks and an integrated access system not only save you time but also money. Here are some reasons why:


  • You’ll never have to replace keys or deal with card malfunctions
  • You can cut labor costs because you don’t need front desk staff to manually process guest  check-ins
  • By connecting additional tools, you can make energy savings. For example, with Operto Tech and a smart thermostat, you can remotely and/or automatically turn off the heating or air conditioning as soon as your guest has checked out.  

You may think you can’t access the benefits of keyless locks because the cost of installing digital hotel locks is too high. With Operto Boost, though, you can become tech-enabled without the upfront fees. In the next section, we show you how.   


The boutique hotel solution: Upgrading your existing locks

Operto powers the digital key program for major global hotels like Accor, and through Operto Boost, we also help hotels of all sizes be competitive by upgrading their locks for a fraction of the price of a complete hardware overhaul. Here’s how it works. 


How Boost upgrades your electronic locks

Operto Boost allows you to upgrade your locks to smart Bluetooth locks without having to invest in commercial-grade equipment. When we insert the Boost Smart Chip into your existing locks, you’ll instantly have digital check-in capability. 


This process only takes approximately 15 minutes per door, and it’s so easy you can do it yourself.

Image of the Operto Boost Smart Chip and app
To transform your check-in experience, all you need is the Boost Smart Chip and the integrated guest experience platform

The costs you save by not replacing hardware

When you replace a lock, you may find your door no longer meets fire codes. And this means that other parts, like the hinges, handle, or even the entire door have to be replaced, too. 


With Boost, you ensure your doors are still compatible with the regulations, and you avoid supply chain delays—which could be months—when sourcing new locks, hinges, and handles. 


Benefits of upgrading your electronic locks

When you retrofit your electronic locks to make them smart with Bluetooth technology, you’ll improve efficiency and deliver a better experience to your guests. This is because you can: 


  • Manage access efficiently and remotely 
  • Reduce lines at your front desk with mobile self check-in
  • Access a range of integrated solutions that improve the guest experience
  • Gain visibility on check-ins and across your operations
  • Integrate your solution with other smart devices, such as thermostats 

Securing your business with smart locks

While electronic door locks go some way to delivering the tech-enabled experience modern guests are looking for, they aren’t enough to protect boutique hotels against the impact of labor shortages, long lines, and traditional operational inefficiencies.


To optimize your processes with fewer staff, you need complete visibility over occupancy and operations, and the ability to manage access remotely. And only smart locks can deliver this. 


With Operto Boost, you can access all the benefits of smart locks and digital access without the upfront costs you’d normally expect to pay. And from here, you’ll be able to access integrated solutions that help you to improve your guest experience even further.

Turn your existing locks into smart locks without the costs or hassle of replacing any hardware.

Learn more about Operto Boost.