Loyalty Program Dominant Focus for Global Hotel Alliance

Kristi Gole, Director of Loyalty Marketing, Global Hotel Alliance told Loyalty360 that the company’s loyalty program has become an absolute focus. Although the program has only existed for 3 ½ years, that didn’t stop it from garnering three awards at the inaugural Loyalty360 Awards held Monday at the 7th Annual Loyalty Expo, presented by Loyalty360 – The Loyalty Marketer’s Association.

Global Hotel Alliance, the world’s largest alliance of independent luxury hotel brands, collected the following awards:

360-Degree Award, Gold Winner

Best Reward Program, Silver Winner

Best Use of Customer Insight or Voice of the Customer in Loyalty Marketing, Silver Winner

Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) comprises 24 upscale and luxury independent hotel brands from across the world, including over 400 hotels, palaces, and resorts in 63 countries.

“Our company’s offering has become dominated by our loyalty program,” Gole said. “It’s shifted our structure and significantly impacted our revenue growth. It’s a huge focus for both our short-term and long-term growth. GHA just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. We’re a startup, but we have shareholders with established brands and we leverage that stability. GHA was founded as more of a B2B company to allow regionally respected brands like Omni Hotels in the U.S. to compete globally while enjoying economies of scale, technology and process efficiencies, and other benefits. Our hotel brands quickly determined that they needed a global loyalty program as well to offer their customers.”

Measuring the success of the loyalty program has changed over the course of the program, Gole said.

“Initially, it was difficult to track our progress,” Gole said. “We started by looking at enrollments and email engagement. The first year was focused on operational setup for systems, global fulfillment of direct mail welcome packets, design and implementation of our lifecycle email triggers, hotel training and SOPs, and internal processes. Year Two was about needing to optimize everything we setup in year one. Year Three we established and identified how to best monitor more metrics, installing better tracking for our emails and on our website and automating BI reports. We tracked whatever we could and were pleased to see huge increases.”

In the past 3 ½ years, Gole said, Global Hotel Alliance has gone from 12 to 24 brands (2 will be launched in April).

“We realized we had to scale very quickly,” she said. “We had significant investment in Year One and performed above expectation. The additional investment for Year Two was less in comparison as we had already setup the main infrastructure. Even though we’ve been growing incredibly fast, we are doing so while keeping the budget relatively flat. There is an understanding of the many places where we need to invest but we are careful about prioritizing resources. For Marketing, we started with investing heavily in the direct mail component as it is a complex process that requires significant setup and lead time, then added on a large increase in email marketing to build the relationship with our members, then focused on relaunching the website (which will be live by end of summer this year) to make the member experience smoother. All of our Marketing communications are personalized by language preference (we currently support 7 languages), membership level (3 public levels), enrolling brand (24), and other geographic attributes, stay behavior or preferences. Personalization adds complexity, but is necessary and is expected.” 

Gole said that Global Hotel Alliance has a limited amount of information about one-time customers, so personalization is limited initially, but they quickly learn more through email engagement such as what members open and click and what messages receive the most opt-outs.

The thing that sets the company apart in Gole’s mind is the unique Local Experiences award component.

“Since we started offering an experiential award, a lot of other programs launched similar things,” she said. “At the time it was innovative and a really good idea. It’s largely a matter of how you deliver it. We launched the company to compete in the market and wanted to be different, to have something truly unique to offer our members. We were very much focused on what our guests asked for. Our customers vary by brand and there is a range of what appeals to each culture, as well as varying expectations. We did focus groups in London, Singapore, and New York and asked our guests what they would like in a program, and what would make them stay with us again. They suggested that when they travel, they want to experience their destination and we could help them do that. Their feedback resulted in the development of our key reward–Local Experiences.”

What is distinctly unique to the company is the smooth collaboration among its brands.

“When we have GHA committee meetings with brand executives, it’s like they’re on the same football team,” Gole explained. “We make key decisions based on unanimous consent and having 24 independent decision makers come to a unanimous agreement is incredible, but we make decisions very easily. It’s a fascinating dynamic and not at all common. Everyone really works toward the common goals of the alliance and they understand full collaboration is needed in order to move forward and to grow. The culture of GHA brings everyone together.”

A total of 187 entries was submitted across seven categories by a total of 58 brands for the Loyalty360 Awards.

Loyalty360 called on a group of 24 industry experts to apply their extensive knowledge of loyalty marketing to identify the brands that are true Loyalty leaders. Judges were asked to evaluate each entry by applying a score of 1-10 based on how well the brand performed against a number of quantitative and qualitative criteria. The result was an objective and unbiased ranking of loyalty leaders. Loyalty Expo was held March 17-19, 2014, at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Florida.

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