There are diverse views in the travel industry about what loyalty means and how members are treated.
Senior execs across hotels and airlines have to balance their priorities with those of revenue managers and other stakeholders including franchisees and hotel owners.
There is, however, some consensus that brand members should not be given the “room next to the elevator or overlooking the car park.”
Dave Canty, vice president of global loyalty programs at IHG, points out that it’s the most important guest stay for hotels.
He says that it’s a conversation he has with owners and revenue managers who want to keep rooms for those customers who are going to pay for them.
“My argument is that the people who are redeeming are the people who have earned it over time and have demonstrated loyalty to your brand. The redeemed stay is when you’ll most likely to be travelling with a companion or family and that’s when the hotel has the opportunity to show you are a big deal to them."
He was speaking during the Enterprise Ireland Travel Technology Summit earlier this month.
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Canty was also questioned on rumors that rooms booked through online travel agencies might be treated similarly in terms of customers being given what might be seen as inferior rooms.
“I think you're right. We try to work with hotels to ensure they are delivering the benefits to our members and members generally book direct so we would ask the hotel to look out for a member before they look out for an OTA.
He adds: “There was a trend where if you were a member and booked through an OTA you would not get any benefits on property, that needs to be revisited. I think it comes back to what is actually happening - why are people booking, is it price or the booking tool or just an easier experience?”
Canty was joined in the discussion by David Feldman, director of loyalty intelligence at Radisson Hotels, who argues that loyalty leaders are not comfortable with it but that it does open “a bit of a Pandora’s Box.”
“One of the issues with the OTAs, is getting the data from them. If you book through an OTA, all of your individual data is not necessarily distributed, you might be a top tier member but the property can’t see that.”
Feldman also believes that the real value in loyalty programs in their ability to drive change in behavior.
Responding to a question around data being the new oil, he says he saw it more as an “arrow in the quiver and it should influence everything we do.”
“Loyalty starts with frequency, I want my customers to come back to my brand, that’s behavioral loyalty. I then want my customers to have an emotional connection, that attitudinal loyalty. If I have both of those I have true loyalty and those customers generate a revenue premium over your non-members.”
The discussion also touched on the wider impact of the Expedia-Marriott deal with Canty saying OTAs are not the enemy.
“There’s room for all to play, we just need to be a little bit more efficient about what they’re good at and what we are good at. We are delivering the stay experience and if we can focus on that and negotiate a rate with the OTAs that allows us to still deliver value to the hotel owner, then it’s a good thing.”
* This reporters attendance at the event was supported by Enterprise Ireland.
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