I recently came out of the closet and announced that for the past 15 years I’ve been hiding my true identity as a hotel inspector. And while it's time for confessions, I have another to make: I’ve been stealing from hotels.
It’s not as you might think - it’s not pens, robes, or hairdryers - it’s keycards. Those credit card-sized pieces of plastic that most hotels now use instead of the old-fashioned room keys. And I have a lot of them. I haven’t made an exact count, but they fill up a shoe box and must surely number well over 500. When I started inspecting all those years ago, I was staying at as many as seven or eight hotels a month. And when I moved into different roles involving more time in the office, I was still inspecting two or three hotels a month on average. I took every keycard I could lay my hands on and it became somewhat of a habit.
Now and again, I’ll get my box of keycards down from on top of the cupboard and have a rummage through. It's a nostalgic experience with each one evoking a flash of memory of some kind; the property at which I stayed, the city I explored, a meal I enjoyed, an adventure I had, or a person I met.
While some keycards are plain and purely functional, others have a more interesting or creative design, such as those from Park Hyatt Hotels which are stylish, monochrome and feature a photo of a local building or landmark. It was always a pleasure to visit those properties, not only because they are full of charm and character, but because it was a chance to add to my collection of their keycards, currently totalling 16.
I’m particularly fond of keycards that evoke a smile due to their aesthetic appeal, such as the chic lady from Brown’s Hotel in London, the three little birds from Sheraton, or the tropical fish from Raffles Seychelles.
Other keycards create an impression through the use of patterns, such as these lovely examples from Grand Hyatt Macau (left and right) and St. Regis (centre).
Sometimes, less is more. If you have as strong a brand as Ritz Paris or a logo as elegant as Iniala’s then why not make the most of them?
Other properties whimsically opt for a reminder of the keycard’s basic function. The traditional one is from Qamardeen hotel in Dubai, while the modern one makes no reference to the hotel to which it belongs.
And speaking of mystery cards, I find this one particularly intriguing and appealing, but have no recollection of from where I picked it up.
Not all electronic keycards come in the regular credit card shape, such as these three from Hyatt Regency Kinabalu, Rosewood Bangkok and 45 Park Lane London.
In recent years, some hotels have begun to shun plastic in favour of more sustainable materials, such as these wooden keycards from Sofitel St. James London, Conrad Rangali Island Maldives and The Segond Hotel in Gozo Malta.
Picking a favourite keycard is as difficult as choosing a favourite property; I appreciate different ones for different reasons. But if I was forced to choose, I think I’d go for this delightful pair from Six Senses Zil Pasyon Seychelles. Beautiful keycards fit for a beautiful property.
As I look through my collection, it strikes me how important and intimate a role the keycard plays in the guest experience. It gets placed in pockets, wallets and purses. It sits on the table at breakfast, next to a cocktail by the beach, and on the nightstand while the guest sleeps. It’s a prime, albeit a small piece of real estate, an opportunity to connect with the guest and communicate something about your brand, concept, culture or personality.
And for those like me who take them home, intentionally or unintentionally, they become a souvenir and form a lasting memory. Call me old-fashioned, but I really hope we don’t start using mobile phone apps to open the doors to our rooms. The key is dead, long live the keycard!