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World’s Most Unusual Hotel Room Keys

© Rob Loud

With old-school skeleton keys and cutting-edge fobs, some hotels grab your attention before you even enter your room.

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New York City comedian Dan Nainan keeps an unusual sort of travel scrapbook: He collects hotel-room key cards.

And yet, the collection brings him joy. “I can pull one out years later, and a flood of memories come into my head,“ says Nainan, who travels frequently for his work. “I instantly remember a time, a place, the show I was doing or a special person I met there.”

A hotel-room key is a small but personal connection to travel: For a short time, it’s proof of your temporary home. So it’s not so strange that travelers sometimes like to take them home (luckily, lost key cards usually cost a hotel only 10 or 15 cents to replace). And while the typical plastic key card may lack obvious charm, certain hotels are now starting to use the flat cards in creative ways. Many imprint them with logos or ads, according to Mark Zisek of Access Marketing, a San Diego company that produces millions of hotel key cards a year. “Some are even turning their keys into luggage tags,” he says.

Other hotels these days, however, are going far beyond using their keys as ad space; rather, they aim for room-entry devices that actually enhance their guests’ travel experience. At the Hotel Carlton in San Francisco, for example, guests are given keys printed with photographs that echo the artwork in their rooms. At Bangkok’s Chaophya Park Hotel, meanwhile, key cards have functioned as subway passes, which let guests sightsee around the city. And at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa, in the heart of California’s central wine region, each of the metal room keys comes attached to a chunk of a wooden wine barrel.

A few hotels’ high-tech keys are dazzling to the point of distraction. When Los Angeles–based writer Kavita Daswani recently stayed at the InterContinental Marine Drive in Mumbai, she was amazed by her matchstick-size room key, which opened her door with a wave and then powered up her room’s lights. “It’s like a little magic wand—adorable,” she says. “Easy to lose, but adorable.”

Check out our slideshow of the world’s most unusual room keys to learn more.

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