Taking Loyalty Programs to a New Level

Points-based loyalty programs have figured prominently in hotel marketing for decades, the most popular ones enlisting millions of members. In the belief that “20 percent of your customers give you 80 percent of your business,” hotel marketers eagerly pursued their best customers, encouraging them to sign up and then work to attain elite-level status.

The higher up the program hierarchy members rose, the greater the loyalty they felt and the greater the number of points and other sweeteners they received for their continued patronage. Both the member and the hotel brand benefitted as did the hotel owner and operator. It was a win-win all around.

I was reminded of how valuable these programs have become in February when Marriott International took the bold step of replacing its long-time Marriott Rewards program, one of the industry’s largest and most well-known programs, with a new entity called Marriott Bonvoy.

As with replacing an established hotel brand, replacing a popular loyalty program comes with a calculated risk, given the equity built into the original name over the course of many years. A seasoned marketer, Marriott certainly understands this and plans to invest heavily in promoting the new program, which consolidates Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest into a single effort.

Interesting too, in launching Bonvoy, Marriott has taken the opportunity to rethink the traditional points-based loyalty program and put a different spin on it, one the company seems to feel will better resonate with today’s travel consumer.

At the heart of this reinvention is something the company is calling Marriott Bonvoy Moments. These are tens of thousands of different kinds of experiences program members can have staying at Marriott hotels and resorts, depending on the destination and time of year. According to Marriott, there are roughly 120,000 such “moments” possible around the world.

In addition to being able to redeem points primarily for free nights — and to a lesser degree, merchandise — members will be able to use their points or purchase these trip enhancements that formerly would have been provided by travel agents, tour companies and/or destination management companies.

As time goes by, it will be interesting to see if other major hotel companies take similar steps with their loyalty programs and whether Marriott does, in fact, have its finger on the pulse of today’s traveling public.

Advertisements

When Is a Guest Room Too Small?

Many select-service brands that established consumer expectations in suburban or highway locations – with spacious guest rooms where guests could stretch out like they would in their own bedrooms – now are turning up in cities where space comes at a premium and guest rooms and public facilities are much smaller.

When these guests check into one of these brands in New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, they encounter a couple of unhappy surprises, including much higher room rates and significantly smaller rooms. They now must navigate cramped space around the beds and in the bathrooms and may discover their accommodations lack a closet or much space to stash their luggage.

On the one hand, hotel developers understand that the cost of land to build in center-city locations is so extreme that it’s unrealistic to provide spacious guest quarters at the brand’s price points. On the other hand, they are sympathetic to the frustration felt by the unsuspecting guests. It is a dilemma with no easy resolution.

It is encouraging, nevertheless, to read comments on TripAdvisor and similar sites that reveal how guests come to terms with these smaller, more expensive select-service hotels. Here are two examples:  “The room was small, but that was to be expected of any room in New York City.” Another guest echoed, “The room was a decent size by New York standards.”

A third comment took the matter a step further, touching on a truism that applies to guests visiting major, world-class cities as opposed to, say, a beach resort: “The room, although compact, had everything we needed. As we’re in a city that never sleeps, we weren’t in the room long enough to need extra space.”

Given the reality at hand, our job as hotel managers is to ensure that our rooms, although admittedly small, are functional, clean, comfortable and attractive. Also, we strive to reset expectations by providing a higher degree of service to help our guests take small rooms in stride and stay with us again.

A Broader Take on Security

It goes without saying that security is always on the mind of hotel managers. Guests have every right to expect they will be safe and their possessions protected. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously.

But by its very nature, security is a subject that hoteliers don’t like to discuss, given that the very nature of security depends on not showing our hand to the bad guys.

Yet it occurred to me recently that, in a broader sense, hoteliers’ concern for the well-being of our guests goes beyond the time they actually spend on property. It was mid-December in Midtown Manhattan, and planning was in full swing, as it is every year at that time, for the New Year’s Eve extravaganza in Times Square.

The countdown to the new year draws tens of thousands of excited onlookers, who crowd the streets. The news media covers the event, and the police presence—both in uniform and plainclothes—is very strong. Considering the times we live in, there are always concerns that crowds of such a size could be subject to a terrorist attack.

Since M&R manages several hotels on the blocks in and around Times Square, our managers, along with managers of other local businesses, participate in the planning process, whether it involves crowd control, emergency access, alternate traffic routes or medical preparedness. Our people are happy to cooperate, eager to provide whatever assistance might be helpful.

When New Year’s Eve rolled around, the hotels in the Times Square area were sold out. Many guests had booked those rooms precisely because they were looking forward to being right in the middle of the action.

One thing they might not have realized: although they may have been blocks away from the hotel physically, caught up in the moment, having fun, the team at their hotel still had their safety and security top of mind.

 

Dispatches from the Battle Over Breakfast

 

One of the core amenities of limited and select-service brands is complimentary breakfast. Guest satisfaction surveys consistently rank these breakfast buffets as highly popular, which is not surprising on at least three counts.

First, guests get to eat as much as they like, sampling as many menu options as they choose.

Second is the financial aspect. For value-conscious consumers—families especially—the fact that the cost is built into the room rate is tremendously appealing. Just consider the hefty cost of taking the family of four or five for a sit-down at the full-service restaurant around the corner—and that’s not including the tip.

Third is convenience. It’s in the building and, if you’re in a hurry, you can be in and out in a half-hour or less. Conversely, if time isn’t an issue, you’re welcome to linger over that second cup of coffee.

Consequently, it’s also not a surprise that brands compete aggressively on the quality and appeal of their breakfast offerings. In fact, in a crowded lodging sector, brands view a successful breakfast product as a form of competitive advantage. As hotel operators looking to attract and retain guests to the brands we manage, we heartily support these efforts.

One brand we manage is rolling out prepared-from-scratch omelets. Another is introducing a line of healthy, nutritious items, including shakes. With his brand’s blessing, one of our enterprising general managers has begun offering ramen noodles, a popular breakfast choice with his Asian guests. Finally, one brand is making grab-and-go bags available to guests checking out before the regular breakfast service begins each morning.

As with so many other aspects of managing hotels, guest satisfaction is paramount, at breakfast as well as the rest of the day.

Business versus Leisure: Blurring the Lines

Business versus Leisure Traveler

Traditionally, hotel managers divided guests into two buckets: business and leisure. Each had its own broad characteristics. While business travelers tended to be in house on the busiest midweek nights, Tuesday and Wednesday, they had shorter lengths of stay. Longer lengths of stay, including weekends, were more typical of leisure travelers.

While many business guests had discounted rates negotiated as part of a corporate managed travel program, they still tended to pay a higher ADR than the even-more heavily discounted rates paid by their leisure counterparts.

Operationally, these two types of travelers tended to have different profiles. Self-sufficient business travelers were likely to leave early in the morning and be gone all day, vacating their rooms and enabling the housekeeping staff to clean early in the day. Leisure travelers, on the other hand, were more likely to come and go and, often be in the room when housekeeping came knocking, making cleaning more complicated. On another level, leisure guests are less likely to be as knowledgeable about the location, thereby requiring more support from the front desk, guest services manager and/or concierge.

But the lines have blurred significantly in recent years. The latest evidence: this year’s Gensler Experience Index, compiled by the Gensler design firm, reported that 69 percent of business travelers polled said they pursued leisure-related activities during their business stay, while 20 percent of leisure travelers reported conducting business during their stays.

The Gensler survey isn’t too surprising, considering that so many business travelers, chronically stressed by work deadlines and commitments, would try to find time for some R&R on business trips. It’s also no surprise that many leisure travelers, unable to leave their offices fully behind, would take time every day to at least check their office email to keep on top of what’s going on.

For hotel managers, the message has become clear: avoid easy labels and stereotypes. View each guest as his or her own person and be prepared to provide whatever services and support needed (likely a mix) to ensure a successful stay.