Skift Take

Hyatt's loyalty program may be in for some interesting changes next year as the hotel chain vacuums up talent from Starwood.

It’s been a busy season for Hyatt and its loyalty program, World of Hyatt. After a quiet summer, the group appointed Mark Vondrasek, who came from the Starwood Preferred Guest program, to oversee all of loyalty and new business platforms at the hotel empire. Now, Amy Weinberg is joining the team to officially lead World of Hyatt.

Prior to joining Hyatt, Weinberg worked for 12 years as the senior vice president of consumer insights for Starwood, overlapping significantly with Vondrasek’s tenure. And now that Starwood’s loyalty program is slowly melting into Marriott’s, it’s a good move for Hyatt to start vacuuming up talent.

What’s still unclear is whether Starwood’s legacy will affect Hyatt and its loyalty program. Over the years, SPG has earned a cult following among business travelers for its strong partner program, wide variety of hotels and co-branded credit card — which allowed for easy point accrual.

Hyatt, no doubt, would also like to reach this level of fandom with its loyalty base, but its loyalty program may be impeding that progress. Until recently, Hyatt’s loyalty program (formerly Gold Passport) enjoyed great popularity with mainstream business travelers thanks to relatively easy goals for elite status and room upgrades.

Earlier this year, however, Hyatt drastically overhauled Gold Passport, along with rebranding to World of Hyatt. Among other changes, the updated program prioritized revenue when calculating elite status, a move that ended up roiling a good portion of Hyatt’s more thrifty loyalty program members. Even today, bloggers continue to poke holes through World of Hyatt’s loyalty program as it struggles to find traction.

Like all three legacy air carriers that moved to revenue-forward programs in the last two years, World of Hyatt may just need to hold its ground and wait for a stronger and smaller loyalty base to ossify. And as newer travelers transition eventually into the elite ranks, that may pay off; multiple studies show that tomorrow’s loyalty program needs to better cater to younger travelers and have multiple redemption options.

World of Hyatt, following this tack, has launched a variety of partner programs through the year, adding experiences and apartment rentals to its loyalty family.

But with Marriott/Starwood and Hilton abstaining from revenue-based programs for 2018, and an unsettled base at World of Hyatt, it’s impossible to ignore that changes — even microscopic — need to be made. In Hyatt’s earnings call last week, CEO Mark Hoplamazian even foreshadowed this when saying that the new team “bring[s] tremendous depth of experience in taking consumer info and data and translating that into initiatives that really add value to the program,” adding, “You can expect to see some changes over the next year as they spool up their efforts.” The tide, it seems, may quickly be turning at World of Hyatt.

— Grant Martin

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Tags: hyatt, loyalty

Photo credit: Hyatt, which is investing in alternative accommodations, wants to give World of Hyatt members the chance to meet with local experts to enhance the discovery of new destinations. Hyatt

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