The shifting landscape: How major brand hotels are reinventing their loyalty programs


by Stephen Murdoch

Each year, countless properties spend advertising and marketing dollars to launch digital campaigns, media relation initiatives, and search engine optimization pushes. All these efforts are undertaken in hopes of attracting new guests to stay at their hotels. In addition to the aforementioned efforts, many hotels are investing in loyalty programs. Recently, Today’s Hotelier spoke with industry stakeholders to better understand the differences and similarities in loyalty programs from coast-to-coast.

Eliot Hamlisch, vice president of worldwide loyalty and engagement at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, is proud of his chain’s loyalty program. “We designed Wyndham Rewards to be the world’s simplest, most generous hotel rewards program. Members earn a guaranteed 1,000 points or more for every qualified stay, and can redeem for a free night at any of more than 25,000 hotels, condos, or homes around the world for just 15,000 points per room per night,” he explains.

The seven year veteran of hotels sees great value in offering loyalty programs. “There is great value in launching and maintaining a loyalty program. Access to a strong loyalty program has become a basic expectation of the modern traveler, no different than Wi-Fi or other common amenities. The difference is the positive impact a loyalty program can have on a hotel’s bottom line,” Hamlisch says.

As for what makes for a successful loyalty program, understanding member needs and delivering what they actually want. “When we re-imagined Wyndham Rewards in 2015, it was born out of guest research and member insights. What we heard time and again was hotel rewards programs in general had become far too complicated and what’s more, made it too difficult for members to redeem the reward they wanted most: a free night. That’s when we decided to pivot; to go left when the rest of the industry was going right. We made the core construct of Wyndham Rewards incredibly simple. We then built upon that foundation, adding in multi-level member benefits, strategic partnerships, and most recently, a new website complete with member-only rates and increasingly rich, member-only promotion,” Hamlisch continues.

The combination of these efforts has had a tremendous impact on not only the Wyndham Hotels & Resorts’ program, but more importantly the hotels that participate. “In the last year, we’ve added nearly five million new members, with award nights making up more than 80 percent of all member redemptions. Meanwhile, our new website is delivering a 75 percent increase in desktop conversions, while our member-only rates and promotions are helping shift share from the OTAs, and driving millions of dollars in gross room revenues.”

In the coming years, Hamlisch feels the greatest challenge with loyalty programs lie with a practical balance. “The challenge any hotel loyalty program faces is balancing the needs of members alongside the needs of its hotels and, in our case, their owners. You have to create a construct that really works for all sides and what’s more, be willing to continuously test and learn so that the program may evolve,” he concludes.

Marriott International’s director of loyalty for Canada, Jennifer Bryl, sees great value in running a loyalty program. “Together, Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG offer an industry-leading and unbeatable combination of properties in the most exciting and diverse locations and loyalty benefits. We began unlocking the full potential of the merger on day one for our members with account linking, status match and unlimited points transfer. More than two million members have linked their accounts, half of them Elites. Earlier this year, we surpassed 100 million members and we’re adding a robust one million new net members every month. Today, members can choose from more than 6,500 hotels in 127 countries among the 30 participating brands in our loyalty programs including the largest luxury portfolio in the industry. Members also have access to memorable experiences through Marriott Rewards Moments and SPG Moments, in addition to the everyday member benefits of both programs such as free Wi-Fi, mobile check-in/checkout, and available mobile requests and keyless entry,” she explains.

The hotel group recently restructured the program to offer the best of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guests programs as one seamless experience. “Starwood Preferred Guest provided particularly attractive rewards for travelers at the upper tiers. Under the new program, Marriott has stepped up our game by combining the best of both, with attractive offerings at each tier. In addition, our new program increases the number of points earned for each dollar of spend, and offers additional opportunities for members to earn points. To be sure, we’ve made a few tradeoffs, eliminating less valuable aspects of the programs in favor of enhancing others,” Bryl went on to say.

Bryl and her team believe that offering customers unique, one-of-a-kind experiences that enhance their personal travel experiences, allows their program to excel. “Marriott Rewards, RCR, and SPG are opening the door to a world of experiences for our members. Our partnerships and the unique attributes of the properties in our combined Marriott Rewards and SPG portfolios allow us to offer members experiences they cannot get anywhere else. We now offer members an unparalleled roster of partners across all loyalty programs including sports, music, and culinary for all our 100 million members to enjoy on the Moments platforms,” she says.

To date, the Marriott International group boasts 3.7 million members across Canada and over 100 million globally. “Our members continue to see a huge amount of value in our program and we see this through direct feedback from current members, and an increasing number of travelers signing up for the program every day. We hope our loyalty program continues to inspire our members to travel across the globe,” Bryl concludes.

Senior vice president of World of Hyatt, Amy Weinberg, feels a successful loyalty program drives both the frequency and relevancy of the brand’s engagement with its members. “World of Hyatt was designed to do just that by providing rewards as you engage with Hyatt, and also enabling more meaningful, relevant experiences. On the meaningful experiences front, we offer industry-leading benefits like confirmed suite upgrades at the time of booking and Guest of Honor, which allows our most loyal members to care for their loved ones by gifting their benefits and elevated status to another person on a particular stay. This benefit is particularly meaningful for members, who want to give back to their families and friends for the time they spend away while on the road,” Weinberg says.

The World of Hyatt team sees tremendous value in a loyalty program that brings value to its members and the brand. “Historically in the industry, loyalty programs were launched and remained largely static. By launching a new loyalty program last year, we are working hard to continue momentum as we operate in a dynamic and ever-evolving industry. What we’re doing with World of Hyatt is listening as we engage with our members and analyzing data so we can understand their wants and needs, and then take action. This notion of listening-driven evolution is what helped originally found the World of Hyatt loyalty program, and it is what continues to challenge us and push us forward every day in order to care for members so they can be their best. For example, it was actively listening that led to how we recently acted on member feedback to count award nights toward tier status and also extend the expiration timeframe for free night awards earned on milestone achievements,” Weinberg concludes


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