At the beginning of last year, Skift declared 2017 “the year when loyalty becomes an even bigger focus for hotels” – because consumers just aren’t as loyal as they used to be. Since then, high-profile brands have been rethinking their approaches to loyalty and updating their programmes. Independent hotels are finding ways to create their own loyalty programmes to incentivise guests make repeat bookings at their property.
But loyalty is changing and evolving – here is what high-profile chains have to say about the state of loyalty today:
Christopher Nassetta, President and CEO of Hilton, says that they’ve changed the Hilton Honors program by making it a much more flexible system. Members can use their points to add things like complimentary Wi-Fi, online check-in, room selection or a digital hotel room key. With the Honors program, you will always receive the best deal because you are a valued member in the “Hilton family”. Hilton is determined to make their Honors program for everyone, not just frequent flyers.
PWC: “There is no better time for hoteliers to rethink their loyalty”
“I think there’s a recognition that the lodging sector has to be a little more creative, commercially,” says Scott D. Berman, Principal and U.S. Industry Leader of PwC. “It is of great significance to view loyalty as an overall brand value. The main struggle in the industry at the moment is the integration of the digital with personal.” - Scott D. Berman, Principal and U.S. Industry Leader of PwC.
David Kong, CEO of Best Western, says that their loyalty program is one of the most effective ways that they are winning back their direct revenue. He emphasises how members gain more benefits if they book direct and are affiliated with a loyalty program. Best Western’s advice is to make the rewards easy to redeem, like instant rewards, because essentially instant gratification is what people are after. But even the best loyalty programs are not valuable to your business if you don’t know how to make use of the data gathered from your customers. They use marketing triggers for their loyalty program users, for example, if a customer is only two stays away from becoming an elite member, and then showing a “you are only one stay away!” pop-up. For any hotelier to be successful, you have to discover what the right channel is to reach your customer and develop relevant content for those customers.
Choice Hotels have modified their loyalty program to offer their loyal guests instant rewards, to prevent the points they have accumulated from expiring. Pat Pacious, COO of Choice Hotels, said that these changes have had a positive effect on the program, transforming it into an award winning program. The move to change the program to be more based on instant gratification came from Millennials being so focused on it. The chain is concentrating on rewarding guests even if it’s their first stay with them. The entire shift is to educate the consumer that if you book direct, you are always getting the best deal.
INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS GROUP
Elie Maalouf, CEO of The Americas at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), says that loyalty will continue to mature. The group's first loyalty program was with Holiday Inn hotels, one of IHG’s prime brands. The IHG loyalty program now has over 92 million members, making it the largest loyalty program in the industry. In the past year the program added a “Your Rate” feature, which is a special rate for members. IHG is continuously adding features to their loyalty program to make it stronger for their loyal members. IHG individually recognises their loyal members through personal interactions and thanking them for choosing to be part of their programme. IHG states that “true” recognition is gaining understanding in what members want and then rewarding their commitment to the IHG brand.
Accor Hotels is currently working on the integration of their two separate loyalty programs. Accor is now operating two unique programs that acknowledge their top guests in terms of loyalty. But by 2018, Accor will fully integrate them to become one, whilst still remaining personalised and valuable for guests.
LANGHAM HOSPITALITY GROUP
Robert Warman, President and CEO of Langham Hospitality Group, has said that in they luxury hotel segment, guests aren’t as engaged with points and would rather have their loyalty recognised by receiving personalised luxury service. According to Mr. Warman, LHG is not embarking on a programme to reduce rates for members as this is not seen as a necessary measure within the luxury market. They are more focused on providing the members with recognition and personalised services.
Whilst there is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to loyalty programs, smart hoteliers are moving away from mere discounts and instead paying special attention to what each of their individual guests personally value. Whether it’s instant gratification, personalised rates or luxury service, the value of the smart hotelier’s loyalty program is based on an intimate knowledge of their guest to provide an unrivalled customer experience