Reaching membership goals in any loyalty program bears testament to its efficiency, simplicity, and attractiveness.

For Global Hotel Alliance, its DISCOVERY loyalty program recently eclipsed the 10 million-member mark.
Kristi Gole, director of loyalty marketing at GHA, talked to Loyalty360 about the evolution of the DISCOVERY loyalty program. 

Can you talk about how customer behavior has changed among these 10 million members during the past seven years?

Gole: There have definitely been trends over the past few years, with the most recent ones being a shift back to longer booking windows (the lead time of booking prior to a hotel stay) with slightly higher ADR (average daily rate), and the willingness to try new brands. They still respond most to offers, but do not always book them; offers grab the attention or act as the starting point, but then members move onto other factors that are more important like preferred stay dates or room types which may not be part of the offer.

On a granular marketing engagement level, for website traffic, visitors are lingering longer and returning more often, and in emails, click rates have been cut in half year over year, but conversion has doubled. In terms of content, members now respond most to direct, to-the-point content that closely ties to our product (hotels) and less to whimsical or abstract messaging.

Can you talk about what not only eclipsing the 10 million-member mark for the DISCOVERY program means but what it says about how far the program has come since 2010?

Gole: Hitting this milestone validates that we have a program that is of value to our member brands and to our customers.

What changes were made to the program since 2010 that helped elevate its popularity?

Gole: Over the past seven years, we have continually evolved our offering. We increased our distribution, growing from 12 hotel brands and 300 hotels at launch to now 35 brands and 550 hotels in 76 countries. We enhanced our benefits, with the most significant being the addition of 10 percent-plus discount Member Rates for booking direct. We expanded our reward offering, adding categories of experiences geared for members on the go, or with fixed itineraries. And we overhauled our direct channels, making our website and app easy to navigate and use, and making our emails more to the point but personalized.

How often do you survey members and how are these insights leveraged in the DISCOVERY program?

Gole: We collect direct insights through monthly surveys, semi-annual usability studies, and annual customer feedback sessions. All benefit enhancements and reward additions have been inspired by the responses collected. We also do ongoing A/B testing for marketing communications to gain insight based on behavior, which is then applied to future approaches.

What have you learned about your most loyal customers in the past seven years, either from a demands/expectations perspective or just from a sheer personality perspective?

Gole: Our most engaged members are fascinating, but also very approachable and relatable. Omni Hotels & Resorts does a great job at interacting directly with top tier (Black level) members; Steve Loeffler, director of loyalty marketing at Omni, personally meets with some when travel plans cross and he hears great stories about when our program has really delivered, and when it has failed. Loyal members want consistency in their experience across brands and hotels, largely pertaining to recognition of their status and the delivery of the program benefits they are entitled to.

Have membership goals exceeded GHA’s expectations?

Gole: We actually had the 10 million mark on the five-year plan a few years back! Our CEO and Head of Loyalty think big and knew we would get there quickly, but we were all pleasantly surprised it actually materialized in just seven years.

What are your future plans for the program?

Gole: Our overall focus in the coming years is to better support and enable our brands to deliver exemplary, personalized experiences to their members (and even non-members), covering technology, marketing, operations, and beyond. We will continue to invest and grow our infrastructure to power the program and supplement at a central level what our brands are delivering at their level while evolving the program to best meet the needs of our loyalty members ongoing.

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