Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide will introduce a loyalty program for travel professionals and meeting planners next month called Starwood Preferred Guest Pro.

Through this new B2B loyalty program, meeting planners and travel professionals will earn points, status, and upgrades when they book business-to-business events at Starwood properties globally.

Starwood currently has an award-winning loyalty program known as Starwood Preferred Guest®. Chris Holdren, Senior Vice President of SPG for Starwood, participated in a compelling Q&A with Loyalty360 to discuss the new program along with other loyalty-related issues.

What factors prompted the creation of this new B2B loyalty program to Starwood and what are your goals for it?

The goal of SPG Pro is to reward our customers who choose to stay at Starwood hotels while also providing new benefits for all of our guests.  SPG Pro enables more personalized service on property and a better understanding of all of the business someone influences. We are optimizing our entire relationship with members rather than just focusing on one aspect of their travel–the vacation stay or the meeting booked. SPG is known for “loyalty beyond reason” and that is the mindset and approach Starwood has taken with the launch of SPG Pro. We’re extending loyalty to all of the B2B business booked through SPG Pro—personal and professional.

Extending Starwood’s loyalty leadership to the B2B space also makes strong business sense. Today, B2B accounts for almost 70% of Starwood’s overall room revenue and with every additional 1% share shift, we’re adding $80M to our top line.

What things make this program unique and stand out in the marketplace?

With SPG Pro, Starwood is focusing on our valued guests and providing what they want–more choice, more control and more personal service than other programs. SPG Pro helps us develop a deeper relationship with travel professionals and offers the opportunity for them to gain elite recognition as a result of SPG Pro, which is a true differentiator for loyalty members and our professional customers.

When will it launch?

Members can start earning SPG Pro benefits when the program goes live on Oct. 15, 2014.

How do you define customer loyalty and has that definition evolved in recent years?

Many companies look at loyalty programs as marketing channels. At Starwood, we know loyalty is vital for our business–the top 2% of our SPG members drive 30% of the profit for Starwood hotels and, on any given night, more than 50% of our occupancy is made up of SPG members. Early on, Starwood learned what mattered most to guests–exceptional experiences and authentic recognition and that has guided us in building a program that produces what we call “loyalty beyond reason”.

At SPG, we pride ourselves on innovation and always being a first mover. We launched with a policy of no blackout dates and were the first to extend loyalty outside of its guest rooms with Crossover Rewards with Delta. We’ve built the richest elite program in the industry and continue to build on the program in order to offer the most personalized experiences for our guests.

As a marketer, what challenges keep you up at night?

A: As a loyalty leader, SPG continually strives to evolve and transform the space at a pace that is one step ahead of everyone else. Challenging the status quo can be risky, but SPG consistently delivers innovative ideas that shape the loyalty landscape–enter SPG Pro as the next big thing in B2B.

How do you stay on top of customer data to be able to leverage the insights that impact guest experiences?

A lot of people are talking about Big Data, but in our world–big data is made up of seemingly small things that make a huge difference in the eyes of our guests. It’s why our focus with SPG, and now SPG Pro, is knowing our guests’ wants and needs and delivering on them from trip to trip. Knowing that if you’re traveling for work, you may have very different needs than when you’re on vacation with your family. We’re leveraging technology to drive business, capitalize on and build loyalty, and improve personalization for guests.

How do you stay on top of rapidly changing technologies and how do they factor in to your customer engagement/experience strategies?

From no blackouts to our mobile experiences, Starwood has demonstrated our continued leadership and “first adopter” approach to offering an enhanced guest experience through the latest digital technologies. In the last 24 months alone, we were the first in our industry to introduce truly keyless and mobile check-in, the first to leverage state-aware technology on our mobile applications, the first to build an iPad app on Apple’s new iOS7, the first to launch SMS capabilities, the first to integrate user-generated Instagram’s into our property pages, and the first to introduce a Chinese Android app.

We are constantly evaluating new technologies and will experiment with emerging platforms that we feel will resonate with our guests, associates and customers.

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