Loyalty wars

Hotel groups have been pulling out all the stops, such as VIP access to money-can’t-buy-experiences, to attract and retain loyal guests

Since borrowing from the success of airline mileage programmes in the 1960s, some of today’s hotel loyalty programmes have reached stratospheric heights with member rewards that are out-of this-world and some which money cannot buy.

Big chains have adopted high-profile strategies and Accor, for example, “has invested more than our competitors in what we call augmented hospitality” through ALL – Accor Live Limitless, according to Steven Taylor, chief marketing officer.

Some of ALL’s most treasured loyalty perks include a once-in-a-lifetime meet and greet with Paris Saint Germain football legends Neymar Jr, Kylian Mbappé and Edinson Cavani, and access to in-demand concerts and renowned festivals.

Beyond the stay
The stiff competition for customers’ loyalty has driven hotel giants to offer value beyond the confines of their properties.

To plump up ALL’s offerings, Accor also partnered with AEG, a producer of global tours for renowned musicians such as Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry, to gift loyal guests the opportunity to buy pre-sale tickets and enter VIP lounges.

Earlier this year, Accor joined forces with Grab and Visa, allowing their guests to maximise their points.

All for experiences
When Hilton conducted a survey among 2,300 travellers across 11 Asian-Pacific countries in 2Q2019 to better understand their consumption motivations, the hotel company discovered that two in three respondents sought “once-in-a-lifetime experiences” as a key aspect of travel, and 71 per cent ticked “local culture and authenticity” as important in attracting them to a new destination.

This led Hilton to further expand its Hilton Honors Experiences auction platform, shared Ben George, senior vice-president and commercial director, Asia-Pacific, Hilton.

The loyalty programme now curates money-can’t-buy experiences through collaborations with partners like Live Nation that span various passion points – music, sports, culture and food.

Hilton Honors Experiences works by allowing members to bid for exclusive experiences with their accumulated points.

George recalled that the highest bid on the platform to date was registered last August. A member used 2.9 million points to successfully bid for a four-night stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, which included a private tour of The Muraka undersea villa and a session with the resident marine biologist.

George reckoned that the record might be broken post-Covid-19, as “demand for purposeful quality experiences will likely reach a whole new level when people start travelling again”.

To please today’s instant gratification consumer, Marilyn Li, executive director of loyalty marketing, Marina Bay Sands (MBS), stressed that loyalty programmes must be far more creative and dynamic in their approach.

Sands Rewards LifeStyle, she said, extends a multitude of incentives and experiential rewards across different sectors of the company’s business – from meals at celebrity chef restaurants and tickets to Broadway shows, to exclusive fashion previews of the latest collections by luxury brands, and even celebrity meet-and-greets.

Li said: “These money-can’t-buy experiences have transcended the dollar-for-dollar match in most loyalty programmes of the past, and this is increasingly important for global travellers today.”

Customisation wars
According to Tracy Dong, senior advisor-advisory services, Asia-Pacific at revenue management company IDeaS, the use of dedicated apps for loyalty programmes has allowed hotels to reduce reliance on intermediaries and distribution costs as they build direct connections with their customers and develop personalised marketing strategies.

However, Cinn Tan, chief sales and marketing officer, Pan Pacific Hotels Group (PPHG), emphasised that loyalty programmes cannot neglect those who had booked via a travel agent and the intermediary itself.

She cited Pan Pacific Connections as an example of such an exercise, where meeting planners are rewarded for driving business to PPHG hotels.

On the other hand, an anonymous industry observer has questioned the benefits of such programmes for hotel companies, noting that the acquisition of new, loyal and active members is a “struggle” for many businesses today.

He opined that loyalty programmes, challenged by stiff competition and high cost of acquiring new clients, would be forced to evolve.

“This is why new programme tiers have emerged, like by invitation only, to enhance exclusivity of the programme,” he remarked.

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