Inspired by the unseasonably warm weather last week in London, I embarked on a bit of spring-cleaning. The first task was to empty the numerous pockets of my winter coats and among the usual detritus of airline ticket stubs and rogue receipts I discovered something new in abundance – hotel key cards. From 10 pockets I dug out nine of these white plastic cards. Two more, languishing in my wallet, brought the total to 11.
My initial response was to feel guilty – oh God, should I return them? Silly me – only a couple had the hotel’s name on them, not one had an address. And of course hotels have them in their thousands. A quick flick through the internet shows you can buy 100 for £10 (€12). I imagine with a little more research you can acquire them in far greater volume for far fewer pennies.
It probably comes as little surprise to hear that I’m not a fan. I understand that what these little white cards have going for them is the ease of dispensing, their security and the saving of energy, given they usually double up as switches for the room’s electricity. Once upon a time it felt so clever. It was the future.
But for all that they might be useful to hotels, they are more often annoying to guests. We’ve all been stranded in the darkness of a hotel room trying to find the magic slot in which to pop the card so all the lights come on. I’ve left a drained laptop and phone to charge while heading out for a few hours only to return and realise that, without the card in its slot, no charging has taken place in my absence. And with so many white plastic cards scattered not just around my room but around the world – I question if electricity saving balances their environmentally friendly credentials. I’m sure it’s electricity bills that are being saved more than the planet.
It probably comes as even less of a surprise that I’m a great big fan of the good old-fashioned key. It’s not just the satisfying carved brass – the action of a turn and the sound of a click. It’s not just the nostalgia of the key cutter – a former stalwart and increasingly absent character in the high street.
A key represents all that was important and that is now sadly lacking in the hotel sector – emotion. Being handed a key on arrival signified stepping over the threshold of someone else’s property and becoming a guest in their residence. The bruising and tarnishing of time spent tumbling around in a thousand pockets was comforting – pointing to a history of satisfied guests before you. Who doesn’t prefer a door that unlocks, opens and closes with human force, rather than bleeps and wheezes open and closed behind you.
A key speaks of mystery. And also romance. I don’t want to live in a world where you have to ask for the white plastic card to someone’s heart.