hand holding loyalty card

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.

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