Does your establishment have a loyalty programme? If you do, do you find that guests are keen to join or hesitant? Flight Centre Business Travel has put together the below article on hotel loyalty programmes, the benefits they bring to travellers, the current trends, as well as an overview of the current loyalty programme landscape.

Hotel loyalty programmes are often regarded as being too much effort for too little reward. The reality is that they can add significant value to a trip, for the both the company and the traveller.

“Many road warriors are faced with frequent delays, early flights, late nights and time away from home and family. The perks of a loyalty programme can make these challenges more bearable,” says Ryan Potgieter, GM Flight Centre Business Travel (FCBT). “For companies, loyalty programmes can significantly help reduce traveller friction.”

However, hotel loyalty programmes have undergone a number of important changes in the past year, which has elicited a strong reaction from road warriors. According to Potgieter, the changes are not all bad and bring about quite a few benefits:  “We’ve seen major mergers, new loyalty perks and new redemption options. All the changes have one thing in common: a better experience for the end-user.”

Potgieter explains the most important changes to loyalty programmes and how these changes can benefit both the traveller and the company:

Major Mergers

We’ve seen major mergers, the most important of which is without a doubt the recent integration of Marriott and Starwood’s loyalty programs. Although it got off to a turbulent start, with members reporting an inability to log in to elite status and point balances not showing correctly, the integration has brought road warriors quite a few perks.

By offering prospective customers a choice between over 5,500 hotels in over 100 countries, the expanded portfolio of Marriott and Starwood gives companies and travellers a wider range of options.

All hotels throughout the portfolio have said they will remove blackout dates for points redemptions, to make it easier for members to redeem points. A Free Night Award chart with peak, standard, and off-peak pricing will be adopted for all hotels. The chart launched with standard pricing in August, and will add off-peak and peak in 2019.

World of Hyatt is the travel reward programme operated by Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, a company that operates more than 700 hotels around the world. Hyatt recently announced a new partnership with SLH, a network with over 500 independent luxury hotels in the global market.

While the details of this newly combined program have not been released yet, the goal of this partnership is to allow World of Hyatt members to earn and redeem points at selected SLH hotels, and vice-versa.

Mergers such as these offer both travellers and companies a bigger network with a more diverse portfolio of choices.

A greater focus on experiences

Some hoteliers are increasingly grasping the value millennial customers place on experiences, as they are expected to comprise more than half of the world’s hotel guests by 2020.

Hilton announced this year it will offer members of its loyalty programme, HHonors, new perks, including milestone bonuses, elite rollover nights, and elite status gifting.

Meanwhile, Marriott International added more benefits for its loyalty members giving them the opportunity to bid their points in exchange for a range of experiences. Some of the experiences available include flying to Milan with Etihad Airways to attend Milan fashion week, or the opportunity to learn the art of making a braai with a hands-on master class with celebrity Master Chef South Africa Judge Peter Goffe-Wood.

In a time where corporates need to shift their focus to the well-being of their travellers, the added perks and experiences hotel loyalty programmes offer can considerably help reduce traveller friction, especially among millennial travellers.

Corporate and personal loyalty aligned

There has been an ongoing debate about who owns the loyalty points: the company who pays for the room or the individual traveller?

Personal loyalty is often considered to be at odds with a managed travel programme, as the suggestion is that a travelling executive will invariably choose for loyalty points instead of adhering to the travel policy.

The Institute of Travel Management (ITM) annual member survey recently found that more than 76 per cent of buyers felt loyalty schemes mainly – or exclusively – benefit the traveller, rather than the company.

However, there has increasingly been an attempt to find the middle ground where both the company and the traveller benefit. Modern schemes can improve traveller productivity as well as reduce direct company costs. Perks, such as free Wi-Fi or room upgrades, are welcomed by all in the age of slimmed-down travel budgets.

IHG’s loyalty scheme for example has different tiers with rewards from automatic room upgrades, fast check-in, executive lounge access and free drinks and canapés. But, IHG also has a scheme for travel bookers, rewarding them with hotel stays, branded merchandise, music downloads and restaurant and retail gift vouchers.

Blockchain

With Blockchain, rewards programmes are expected to become tradable, easy to track, and convertible into crypto. It would also allow users to have all their points in one wallet.

According to a recent study conducted by Deloitte, Blockchain can also enable a transaction to be recorded and accessed by multiple involved parties in near real time, increasing the chance that a loyalty rewards program provider can cut through coordination inertia to credit points faster.

Furthermore, Blockchain creates an immutable and time-stamped distributed database entry of every single transaction ever made, making each transaction and its record easily traceable, but also rendering them irreversible, preventing double spending, fraud, abuse, and any other type of manipulation of the transactions.

Loyalty programmes have undergone dramatic changes and more changes are still on the cards. If you’re feeling confused by the options, getting the most out of a loyalty programme or reward scheme is something a Travel Management Company, like FCBT, should be able to assist you with, explains Potgieter.

“Your TMC has the knowledge of the loyalty programmes available that best suit your company and individual travellers’ needs.”

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