"It allows you to do difficult things in an easy way," said Geraldine Calpin, Hilton Worldwide's (HLT) senior vice president and global head of digital. "You can tell us what time you're arriving and tell us a day ahead of time. You get everything done before you get there. We don't ask for a credit card or ID when you get there."
By the end of this year, Hilton expects the app -- free for Hilton HHonors loyalty club members -- to cover more than 4,000 hotels, including its namesake Hilton hotels, plus DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hampton and other brands.
Hilton has invested more than $500-million on technology upgrades over the past seven years with the hope that it will increase customer loyalty and attract new customers, especially younger ones who are used to doing everything on smartphones.
Not Available From Online Booking Sites
Analysts note that the app fights back at online booking sites such as Expedia.com (EXPE), Trivago.com and Booking.com. Those services charge hotels a fee. To use the app, you'll need to go directly through Hilton's reservation system.
Hilton competitors -- including Starwood (HOT) and Marriott (MAR) -- are readying mobile features at some hotels.
Next year, Hilton will introduce keyless door entry.
This expanded use of the smartphone raises security concerns for some travelers, but Calpin said "we've been testing this for years. The phone has to be as totally secure as the keycard is today. It will be 100 percent as secure as the current card." However, people who don't have mobile phones or trust the security of the app will continue to be offered magnetic cards.
She hopes that 15 percent to 20 percent of Hilton loyalty members try out the app within the first several months it's available. And she's looking for feedback to expand options. "Our customers," she said, are the best inventors there are."
"It's not a gimmick," according to Calpin. "It does what customers want. It speeds up everything for them."