The following post was inspired by a friend of mine that was recently married on New Year’s Eve here in beautiful Tampa. After the wedding, a reception was held at a local well-known hotel. Things went along well until approximately midnight when the guests room key cards to the hotel rooms failed.

A Hotel Wedding Story

Now this was not an ordinary room key failure, in fact all hotel rooms were affected indicating a system failure. In most hotels, maintenance management can use a master key to open rooms but it was reported that these keys did not work either.

To make matters worse the physical master key that was used to open the guest rooms did not work for all the rooms. The liability issue on this is exceptionally high.

Multiple NYE Hotel Lock Problems

The Tampa hotel issue was not an isolated incident on New Year’s Eve, MSN reported that a Denver hotel that had an almost identical issue as the Tampa hotel and a third hotel, the Gramercy Park Hotel in NYC had all guests locked out at midnight for 3-5 hours. There probably are a few more hotels but no one has reported them yet.

“… on New Year’s Eve, at approximately midnight, the hotel experienced a malfunction with our guestroom locks. Every lock went offline and no keys were working, including hotel master keys. Generally hotels have emergency keys locked in a safe in case of a situation like this. We did, but unfortunately these keys did not work either…. At this point we are able to confirm that there was a glitch in the system, and that we were not the only hotel impacted.”

Source: Elizabeth Mao, General Manager, Gramercy Park Hotel

In reading the rest of the response written by Ms. Mao, I commend her for responding so well as the problem caught the hotel completely by surprise.

Hotel Guest Impact

None of the hotels affected by the guestroom locks issues planned this to happen. Regardless of who is responsible, the problem was that each hotel maintenance and management staff was immediately placed into a defensive and reactive mode of operation.

Some of the consequences included:

  • Angry guests: In two of the hotels the police were called in to handle angry guests.
  • Noise: Those who were the first to be in their rooms had to deal with noise issues
  • Overwhelmed bathrooms: Leaving the hotel with an unkempt perception.
  • Guest locked in rooms: It is reported that in at least one hotel guest were locked in their room and unable to exit.
  • Blackened Image: Negative travel reviews and bad memories that guest won’t forget.
  • Lots and lots of overtime
  • Lost Revenue: Lots of free stays and comps given out.

Was this a Hotel Maintenance Issue?

The answer is no one person or party is responsible. In order to better understand this one has to look at the incident in parts. In my opinion based upon the information available:

  • The actual lock malfunctions were not the hotel’s fault because this occurred in several hotels in different parts of the country. My guess is that the problem is a glitch in the software that runs the computerized lock systems. The manufacturer will need to bear responsibility on this.
  • In two of the hotels it is reported that the master keys did not work. This is possible if they too are electronically coded. In Tampa, the hotel had a physical key to unlock doors. the problem is they only had one key. There is no excuse for a hotel not to have a physical key to unlock doors in an emergency. Responsible party – Hotel Management.
  • Hotel master key not working on every door. Periodic inspections could have identified this problem before guest became furious. Comp’d stays are one thing, no bed to sleep on New Years Eve after revelry or reception drinks is never forgotten. Responsible party – Hotel Maintenance Management
  • Hotel hall noise. With guest locked out of their room and in the hallways or common areas, hall noise levels exploded. Hotel noise problems are already one of the top hotel problems. Proper carpeting, weather stripping can mitigate noise issues. Responsible party – Hotel Management and Maintenance.
  • Bathroom facilities overrun. With no room access everyone was forced to use the few common restrooms. I cannot even begin to imagine the state of the restrooms in Denver, Tampa or NYC. Credit maintenance teams for doing what they could. Responsible party – none.
  • Guests locked inside their room after electronic locks failed. This is another inspection issue as safety or door inspections should have identified these problems. Responsibility – Maintenance

Customer Care May Have Won the Night

Despite all accounts of a horrible night for guests, I have also heard that many of the hotel staff worked their tails off for guests that night. In fact, my friend who got married that night raved that the staff was so attentive to his and his bride’s needs that he would still consider using them again.

This goes to show that how a hotel handles a disaster is just as important as the disaster itself. I nod in respect to the hotel staff who hustled to do the best they could for guests under the circumstances.

It is easy to see that the cost of a quality computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) program would have paid for itself by ensuring that each hotel regularly inspected all of its assets.