Skift Take

Global Hotel Alliance notches up 21 million members after signing up Spain’s NH Group. It might now have an eclectic mix of global independent brands, but will need to watch its rivals' next steps closely: if they're not merging, they're leveraging their considerably greater size and scale to secure new loyalty partnerships outside traditional hospitality channels.

Loyalty and distribution platform Global Hotel Alliance has signed a partnership with NH Hotel Group that will now nearly double its membership reach, as rival chains further evolve their own programs to win more direct business.

The Spanish chain has 340 hotels globally, which boosts the alliance’s network to more than 800 hotels, covering 40 brands in 100 countries. The hotel group’s 10 million NH Rewards program members now switch over to Global Hotel Alliance’s Discovery loyalty program, expanding it to 21 million members.

Hotels are expanding their loyalty schemes in a number of ways. They offer guests more flexibility in the new post-pandemic world, but the end game is to coerce repeat guests into booking directly on their websites, which helps properties reduce the amount they pay to third parties, particularly online travel agencies.

They’re getting more creative. Marriott, for example, has 55 million Bonvoy members in the Asia Pacific region alone and is developing payment and superapp alliances as well as co-branded credit cards.

InterContinental Hotels Group revamped its loyalty program in April, adding a new tier-and-bonus-point-earning structure that lets guests pick bonuses rather than receive standard ones across 6,000 franchised properties.

Hotel mergers are also picking up pace. Choice Hotels on Monday said it will acquire Radisson Hotel Group Americas, shrinking the loyalty pool even more.

East Meets West

For NH, its former “Rewards” members retain the value of their points and other benefits, including member rates with up to 10 percent discount and extra rewards when booking on the NH website.

Key to its success though will be a new kind of new cross-pollination between the dozens of brands that the alliance houses; NH Group brings with it NH Hotels, NH Collection and nhow, but the alliance also has about 40 other brands, including Kempinski, Corinthia and Doyle Collection. And with its links with Thailand’s Minor Group, whose 160 hotels, including Anantara, Avani, Elewana Collection, Oaks and Tivoli, are already member brands, the alliance gets to bridge east with west. NH Hotel Group is majority-owned by Minor.

Global Hotel Alliance claims it’s now the largest alliance of independent hotel brands, and its CEO said he believes it’s now better positioned to take advantage of a new class of “hybrid” traveler who will want more variety.

“The loyalty program platform we’re creating and the type of brands we have is interesting, because we have an eclectic and rich mix of brands, from a choice point of view for the evolving traveler,” said Christopher Hartley, adding that tomorrow’s business traveler is now moving away from “commoditized” persona into a broader business-leisure mix.

“They stand out in a stable of brands, unlike the Marriotts and Hiltons, which have a commoditized and standardized product portfolio,” Harltey added.

Global Hotel Alliance recently revamped its loyalty program with Discovery Dollars. That lets members earn and spend at any property in its Discovery portfolio. There are also more tiers and a Live Local feature that offers ”around-the-corner” lifestyle experiences.

“The new currency is ultimately attractive to this new, emerging hybrid leisure customer,” Hartley said.

The CEO of NH Hotel Group meanwhile told Skift that business had surpassed pre-pandemic levels, after a dire 2020, with more guests mixing work and leisure, and staying longer. In contrast, Hartley said the alliance’s “aggregate” international business was back to about 70 percent currently.

“Thursday used to be a check out day, now it’s check-in day,” said Ramon Aragones. He believes NH’s hotels are ready for future business guests, having equipped rooms with the necessary equipment for hybrid workers during the pandemic. Now the focus should be on the guest experience, he argued.

“At the end of the day, a hotel is a hotel, and the client wants a specific level of service,” said Aragones. “Not all clients want the same. Now we’re part of Discovery that’s increasing our possibilities.”

Hotels are doing their best to maneuver past the labor shortage, but Hartley isn’t too concerned. “I don’t see people leaving the industry forever,” he said. However, what was needed was a “combined industry effort to remind people why travel is such an attractive sector to join … It’s a temporary problem. Rather than a recruitment campaign, it’s a communication campaign.”

The alliance will also continue to build relationships with travel management companies, and directly with travel buyers, Hartley added.

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Tags: asia, business travel, choice hotels, corporate travel, distribution, europe, Global Hotel Alliance, hotels, ihg, loyalty, marriott, marriott bonvoy, minor hotels, nh hotels, radisson, remote work

Photo credit: NH Gran Hotel Calderon, Barcelona, Spain. NH Hotel Group

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