Marriott really, really, really wants SPG members to know it won't forsake them as it tries to combine all three of its loyalty programs into one by next year.
Marriott International is promoting David Flueck, a 13-year Starwood Hotels veteran, to serve as the company’s new senior VP of Loyalty, overseeing all three of the company’s loyalty programs — Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards.
Flueck, who joined the company when Marriott purchased Starwood Hotels for $13.3 billion in September, formerly served as senior VP of revenue management and SPG. In his new role, Flueck reports to Marriott CMO Karin Timpone.
Thom Kozik will remain as Marriott’s VP of Loyalty, overseeing Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and will report to Flueck. In a press release, Marriott said Kozik “will take on added responsibilities for cutting-edge strategic initiatives,” although the company did not elaborate on those initiatives.
The fact that Marriott has chosen a former Starwood executive to lead the integration of its three programs is significant, especially as many in the industry ponder just how much of Starwood’s DNA will make its way into the newly combined company, now the world’s largest hospitality company with more than 6,000 hotels and more than 1.1 million rooms.
With regard to its loyalty programs, at least, Marriott seems to be making concerted efforts to show SPG loyalists that it is incorporating plenty of what made the program so beloved into the new program it hopes to unveil by 2018.
Flueck told Skift that he did not anticipate becoming SVP of loyalty as he transitioned from Starwood to Marriott last fall.
“I was one of the architects at SPG when we added a lot of new benefits and the dramatic growth of SPG took place,” Flueck said. “I was also running a lot of hotel revenue management at Starwood these last three years. It’s exciting to bring those analytic capabilities into our loyalty program to think about how to personalize the guest experience.”
In his new role, Flueck said his main priorities will be to “allow members to unlock Marriott’s extraordinary portfolio,” “bring some of the best of SPG into Marriott Rewards and vice versa,” and “start the hard work of how we bring these two programs together.” He said he hopes to have more of an idea about the timing of the new program’s debut by the end of this year.
While the “hard work” of integrating all three programs will rely very heavily on technology systems, it’ll also still unclear whether Marriott is still in the process of transitioning all legacy Starwood hotels onto its older mainframe technology platform, called MARSHA, which was developed in the 1970s. In an opinion piece for Hosptiality Net, former Starwood SVP of Technology Solutions, Israel del Rio, expressed concerns that Marriott is forcing Starwood properties to abandon their newer mainframe tech platform, Valhalla, for Marriott’s older one. Flueck couldn’t confirm if this were the case, but if it is, it’ll certainly be interesting to see what impact that decision may have when Marriott ultimately debuts its unified loyalty program in 2018.
In an earlier conversation with Marriott’s Kozik and SVP of digital, George Corbin, however, it was clear Marriott is learning from Starwood’s expertise in digital and loyalty, especially when it comes to experiences, or what SPG called “moments.” Flueck said that he hopes to continue and build on that going forward, too.
Flueck said Marriott Rewards members were able to enjoy 3,000 different experiences through its Experiences Marketplace last year, and that experiential travel will remain a cornerstone of the new unified program.
“I do think the travel industry is definitely moving more toward the experiential. That’s been our focus for a long time,” Flueck said.
And when it comes to personalizing the guest experience, Flueck said the company is relying on Big Data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to have “more contextually relevant marketing to members when they are in our hotels.” That will come to fruition as Marriott rolls out mPlaces, a new real-time messaging platform housed in the Marriott Rewards app, relying on beacon technology.
When asked for his thoughts on what peers like Hilton, Hyatt, and Wyndham are doing with their respective loyalty programs, and whether he’s taking those changes into account as he works on Marriott’s programs, Flueck said, “I think, like all leaders in this space, I stay abreast of what’s happening in both our industry and airlines and related travel companies. Our focus is really on being able to leverage the tremendous assets we have with the properties and experiences we can bring to life through moments around the world. It’s a scale none of our competitors can match … it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of people are looking at our acquisition last year and realizing it’s important to add new benefits in the marketplace. But our focus is really on our membership base.”
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Photo credit: A mobile check-in option is offered for loyalty members at the Marriott Marquis Times Square hotel in New York. The brand is leaning on Starwood leadership for its loyalty program. Kathy Willens / Associated Press