Skift Take

Hotel loyalty programs are facing a period of dramatic change, driven by recent devaluations of member points and picky travelers that are less loyal than ever.

Last week we released the latest report in the Skift Trends series, The Future of Hotel Loyalty 2016.

Below is an extract. Get the full report here to get ahead of this trend.

One bedrock of building more long-term, “relationship-focused” loyalty relies upon hotels offering more personalized, customized experiences for loyalty travelers.

This can take on a number of different forms. At the high end, large chains like Starwood provide their most-valued guests with “ambassadors” who serve as a personal liaison for customer questions during their stay. At the lower end, this typically involves using technology, databases and social media to keep track of customer preferences and personalize guest experiences during customer interactions.

Personalization can be a dirty word for some hotel marketers, as balancing concerns about guest privacy with the opportunity to deliver a more positive loyalty experience can be tricky. However as it turns out, the number of travelers willing to provide personal details in exchange for more customized hotel marketing offers is on the rise. “When [customers agree] to share some information with us, it’s because they know that we’re making good use of it, and only aiming at giving them the best experience possible,” says Isabelle Birem, svp of loyalty for Le Club Accorhotels.

Customer surveys appear to bear out this conclusion. According to Sabre and Forrester’s 2015 hotel loyalty survey, more than half of travelers said they “don’t mind when hotels use my personal information to offer me relevant deals, discounts and loyalty points.”

Source: Sabre Hospitality Solutions and Forrester Report, November 2015

For some hotel chains like Accor, personalization has taken the form of encouraging guests to book rooms and manage their stays using their brand’s .com website. “We’re making a very big effort towards being more disciplined and rigorous, offering better soft benefits, and having guests understand that they get the exact same price going through as they would get otherwise,” said Accor’s Bazin. Another way to win at personalization is via good old-fashioned commitments to top-notch hospitality and customer service at the property. “It’s about making them feel more and more identified, recognized, awaited-for,” said Bazin10.

From a more data-centric perspective, survey data suggests there are specific perks travelers (and hotel owners) should focus on employing. Many of these perks can be relatively easily delivered by letting guests input such information into customer databases for later use.

For Starwood hotels, the key to personalization is to offer different loyalty program perks as customers get more connected to the brand. The process starts at the entry level by letting guests set default preferences for their rooms. “At a very base level, when a SPG member books their reservation with us, they can define certain core preferences [like] bed type,” said Starwood’s Holdren.

Beyond this basic preference-setting, mobile is another key channel. “Just being recognized if you have your SPG card loaded in the [iOS] passbook, or if you’re carrying our app, when you walk into our hotel, the whole app experience changes to reflect that you’re actually in our hotel,” said Holden. “[It also shows] things that we think you might like to do based on what we know about you.”

As Holdren notes, as loyalty program members stay with Starwood more frequently, the loyalty program experience gets ever-more personalized as well, culminating in access to the company’s personal ambassadors that help out with problems. “Our most frequent and valuable guests [get access to] our Ambassador program, where you’re matched up with a 1:1 relationship with someone on our team who manages all your travel needs, gets to know you and…has a deep understanding of what you value,” said Holdren.

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Tags: accor, gds, loyalty, research reports, sabre, starwood

Photo credit: Starwood builds in extra digital and mobile capabilities for its SPG members. Starwood Hotels and Resorts

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