Turning Hotel Room Keys into Prepaid Cards

by Ben Jackson 0

At the InComm Partner Alliance in Miami lastFebruary, attendees received room keys like the one pictured here.Branded by Zynga and InComm, the room keys put a constant marketingmessage, or ‘little billboard’ as closed-loop gift card providerslike to call them, in the hands of all the attendees. Looking atthe magnetic stripe on these cards got me to thinking that a brandmessage is really only the beginning of the possibilities.
Anyone who has attended a prepaid conference probably has receivedsome form of loaded prepaid card. The goal of these cards is muchthe same as the goal of the branded room key – raise awareness anddeliver a marketing message. It seems the next step would be tocombine these two cards.

The concept of using a room key as a payment card is not entirelynew. Marriott has had arrangements where guest could show theirroom keys for discounts at nearby merchants, and the campus cardthat includes features like dorm access is the same idea applied ina different setting.

In the case we are exploring here, it could be one of combining theone time production of room keys with the production of anevent-specific prepaid card. As evidenced by the Zynga key, customcard production is feasible on room keys. Production that involvesincluding a true payments device may be a little more of challenge,because you would need multiple stripes or purses on the card,ensure that they would not demagnetize one another, and that theywere produced in a secure manner.

All of that said, with smart cards and multi-purse applications,these hurdles could be overcome. In addition to the marketingmessage of providing a card, requiring user activation could be anopportunity to collect additional data. Since it would be risky tohave stacks of activated cards sitting behind a hotel desk,activation might happen at registration, or after a cardholder logsin to a Web site from their room or mobile phone.

Along with the marketing possibility, hotels could use this conceptto provide value-added services to their guests. For example,combining a room key with a smart card for local transit could helpconsumers navigate the city they are visiting. One issue here iscost, so it would be necessary to put some sort of incentive orpenalty on guests to make sure that they return their roomkeys.

Combining payment cards with other types of cards opens up a rangeof possibilities. It is up to providers and manufacturers to findways over the obstacles to make this a viable business.

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