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AccorHotels bought all three luxury hotel brands in July 2016 for $2.7 billion and since then all four loyalty programs have operated separately.
Starting Monday, however, all 45 million members will have more places to earn and redeem points, for 3,500 hotels in nearly 100 countries worldwide.
The four million or so members of the Fairmont President’s Club, Swissôtel Circle, and Raffles Ambassador programs are now automatically a part of Le Club AccorHotels, and their current status will be based on their activity in 2017 and stays to date. And although membership in Le Club AccorHotels renews every year on January 1, program status for legacy members from Fairmont, Swissôtel and Raffles will be effective July 2 through December 31, 2019.
Winners and Losers?
Legacy members of Le Club AccorHotels certainly benefit from the merging of these programs — now they have even more ways to earn and use points — but for legacy members of the Fairmont, Raffles, and Swissôtel programs, there might be some losses.
“This does entail some disappointment for some frequent guests,” said Gary Leff, a loyalty program expert and author of the travel blog, View From the Wing. “But it’s inevitable and not unexpected.”
Leff said that often when a more upscale or luxury brand is folded into a larger hotel company — as Kimpton was with InterContinental Hotels Group — the specific attributes, or perks, of a smaller chain’s program are often lost.
Prior to buying Fairmont, Raffles, and Swissotel, among other luxury brands, AccorHotels was primarily known as a hotel company that specialized in more economy and midscale hotel brands.
In this case, Leff pointed out, elite members of the Fairmont Presidents Club, for example, were guaranteed a late checkout and suite upgrade certificates so they could confirm a suite when they booked their room. However, those benefits are no longer available as part of Le Club AccorHotels.
But Leff isn’t ruling out the possibility that things could change.
“Because the AccorHotels loyalty program is young and has been adding to its elite experiences, over time it may learn from the other chains that have more luxury brands and build onto the platform it already has,” Leff said. “It’s a mistake to think the program that exists today is the end of the story.”
More Loyalty Mergers on the Way
Indeed, as the hospitality industry becomes more consolidated — with AccorHotels often leading the pack when it comes to making acquisitions — it’s likely that loyalty programs from smaller brands will be increasingly replaced by the bigger brands’ own programs.
Concerns voiced by loyalty members of the acquired brands are being taken into consideration by the larger brands, which is why Marriott, for example, was extremely careful about developing its own plan for combining all three of its loyalty programs after buying Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Marriott announced the immediate linking of accounts between Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest the day after its deal closed.
But, as Leff pointed out, “the [hotel] space itself is changing,” which also impacts how loyalty programs are being designed and deployed.
The industry is also beginning to see private accommodations play a larger role. Beginning in April, Le Club AccorHotels cardholders have the option to put their points toward stays with Onefinestay, which Accor acquired in 2016. And when Marriott launched its homesharing pilot with Hostmaker, also in April, it enabled its members to earn and redeem loyalty points for stays related to Tribute Portfolio Homes.
“There are more choices than there have ever been, and there will be more going forward,” Leff said. “It’s no cold comfort for a Fairmont President’s Club elite member, who was used to confirming a suite in advance before check-in, but that’s where the industry is headed.”
Making Connections Via Loyalty
Another major hotel loyalty trend is the increasing use of loyalty programs to help hotel brands better understand their guests, market to them more effectively, and improve those guests’ experiences from booking to post-stay.
This is why other hospitality brands like Marriott and Hilton are investing so heavily in their loyalty programs. Hilton, for example, is using its Hilton Honors loyalty program to enable guests to access its “Connected Room” concept, which uses the Internet of Things to let guests control the temperature, lighting, and entertainment in their guestrooms using their own smartphones.
For AccorHotels, too, Le Club AccorHotels could — and should — be a primary vehicle for the brand to execute similar strategies aimed at improving their members’ overall experiences and daily engagement with the brand through apps and services such as the Accor Local app, which is geared toward enabling local residents to access services via their local AccorHotels properties.
Maud Bailly, AccorHotels’ first chief digital officer, said that she and the AccorHotels team are banking on personalization to “be the key lever of our differentiation strategy” and its interactions with its most loyal guests.
“I often organize dinners with my most loyal loyalty members and the things they tell me [they want] is to be known and recognized,” Bailly said. “They love to feel we know them as soon as they enter the hotel.”
To promote the merging of the Fairmont, Raffles, and Swissôtel programs into Le Club, AccorHotels has launched Seeker by Le Club AccorHotels, which lets people take a biometrics assessment to help them determine where they might want to travel to, and what kind of traveler they are. For now, data from the Seeker project isn’t being used to further personalize the actual guest experience, but in the future AccorHotels spokespeople hinted that it potentially could.
If that materializes, it could serve as a model for how brands choose to further personalize their loyalty experiences, and deliver more value to guests.