How the Evolution of the Loyalty Game is Fueling IHG’s Success
Keeping loyal members happy is a major issue in today’s post-pandemic hotel landscape. According to Skift Research’s Travel Loyalty Programs Deep Dive 2022, 30-60% of room nights are booked by loyal members of major hotel brands. Members of the hotel loyalty program also spend more on the property and book more repeat stays than non-members.
As travel demand returns, loyalty programs are revamped to meet the needs of leisure travelers and travel managers. IHG’s new loyalty program, IHG One Rewards, is well suited to meet this increased demand by personalizing the rewards experience – members can choose the rewards that interest them, for example.
Based on extensive customer sentiment research, the new program fuels richer, more rewarding travel programs for shoppers and more personalized choices and experiences for their travelers and customers. To learn more about IHG’s approach to loyalty, SkiftX spoke with Heather Balsley, Senior Vice President of Loyalty and Global Partnerships, and Mark Sergot, Senior Vice President of Global Sales.
SkiftX: What role did the customer play in driving the changes to IHG’s loyalty program?
Heather Balley: Our customers’ needs are changing and we are changing with them. By conducting extensive research with travelers, hotel owners and operators, we were able to transform IHG One Rewards into a modern loyalty program that not only meets our members’ needs, but also anticipates them.
In addition to extensive quantitative research, we hosted focus groups with B2B customers, road warriors, and industry experts to weigh in on the benefits we’re creating. From there, it helped us know that we wanted to lean into the idea of choice and flexibility, because no two travelers are the same.
For example, our new Milestone Rewards benefits allow business travelers to choose their benefits with each stay, which may be different when traveling for pleasure or for business. We’ve also optimized our tier thresholds to provide richer benefits and motivate customers to stay engaged and reach the next tiers, which are now more accessible.
Our customers are at the heart of everything we do, and by putting customers in the driver’s seat, we not only create valuable business for our hotels, but we also create great engagement with our members.
SkiftX: What sets IHG One Rewards apart from other loyalty programs?
Bally: With this new program, we seek to celebrate the individuality of our customers, offering them more value, enhanced benefits and the flexibility to choose to be rewarded in their own way. IHG One Rewards now offers industry-leading value and exciting new benefits to our beloved members to enhance their stays. The new program tier and bonus earning structure gives members more choice, value and richer rewards than ever before.
In addition to choice and flexibility, we also offer some of our most meaningful benefits sooner than any other loyalty program, delivered through Milestone Rewards. Our Annual Lounge Membership offers members who value Club Lounge access the option to choose this benefit after 40 or 70 nights. The Confirmable Suite Upgrade is available from 20 nights, then again at 40 and 70 for members who wish to be able to confirm an upgrade in advance.
SkiftX: How do you ensure you offer the right amount of customizable options without over-complicating the redemption process?
Bally: One of the key takeaways from our research found that, overall, the most popular perks were room upgrades and free breakfast, followed by member discounts, bonus points, credit for food and beverages and lounge access. It was important that while we introduced new benefits for our members, we remained relatively simple to use. We want members to be able to select the benefits that matter most to them on every stay.
With Milestone Rewards, each stage has simple choices; we deliberately kept the number of options from two to four and made sure each was meaningful based on our research. These choices are enabled by an intuitive user interface in account management and the mobile app, in addition to personalized and relevant email marketing. Members will know when they have reached a milestone and have a choice to make, then they can easily make that choice in their rewards wallet. On top of that, members can then choose when to redeem their reward, enhancing the stay that makes sense to them.
SkiftX: What is IHG’s long-term vision for retaining its business-to-business customers?
Marc Sergot: Building loyalty goes hand in hand with building stronger relationships. We want to be an indispensable solution-focused resource for our B2B customers and partners. We want to create an exceptional shopping experience focused on customer success and enriching stay experiences for their travelers and customers. This means we must be nimble, proactive and responsive to the needs of our customers, giving them the programs and resources they need to succeed. One of the most important aspects of this is ensuring that we reward customers, partners and guests with a top-notch loyalty program when they return from their travels.
With IHG One Rewards, frequent business travelers and IHG guests will now have more opportunities to earn bonuses faster. Additionally, Milestone Rewards allows individual travelers to flexibly earn and redeem rewards that meet their unique personal and business needs. Members can choose rewards such as confirmable suite upgrades, food and beverage rewards, and annual lounge membership to redeem on their own terms, for example. It’s all powered by the new IHG One Rewards app, which allows members to access these rewards on the go.
In addition to the value and flexibility these changes will bring to business travellers, our new loyalty program will also help save money for our B2B customers. For example, free breakfast as a welcome choice for Diamond Elite members can help minimize food and beverage expenses, and business travelers will be able to select an annual lounge membership as a Milestone Rewards choice, which can serve alternative space for small meetings. , reducing room rental and food and beverage costs. This is just the beginning, and we will continue to improve IHG One Rewards to ensure travel is as rewarding as possible.
SkiftX: How is IHG listening to the B2B audience and how is it informing the future of IHG? Why is it important to you personally that IHG has the pulse of the voice of the customer?
Sergot: We cannot be a valuable resource to our customers and partners if we don’t listen to their needs, understand what’s important to them, and use that information to provide solutions that help them and their organizations. , to success.
We have a diverse group of customers, from small to medium to large enterprises, including entertainment, sports, corporate groups and transient businesses. This also includes luxury segments such as vacation packages, premium tours and leisure travel experiences. Each segment has a different set of needs, and we engage with our customers in a variety of ways to learn their priorities, including customer advisory boards, internal surveys, and ongoing conversations. It’s a constant two-way conversation, where we listen to what matters most to them and build solutions based on their feedback so we can help our clients achieve their goals and be successful. These conversations have become more important than ever with the speed with which circumstances are changing in various global markets.
Listening is one of the most important parts of my role, but more importantly, it’s a priority for all of us at IHG. We are committed to listening, in order to better understand our customers and ultimately become their partner of choice, again, focused on their success.
SkiftX: In addition to the new loyalty program, what programs and platforms does IHG offer to support each segment?
Sergot: The diversity of our customers means we must have an equally diverse set of tools and resources to meet their travel needs across our collection of 17 brands with over 6,000 hotels in over 100 countries across the world.
Our Customer Insights portal, a first in the hospitality industry, is our global solution for large enterprises. This user-friendly digital platform provides travel managers with easily downloadable and customizable reports that give them greater visibility and transparency into their spend and savings. This deeper insight allows us to provide more solid advice and enables travel managers to make more informed decisions about their travel programs.
IHG Business Edge is our award-winning global platform that streamlines the travel process for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), tailored to their needs. It is a one-stop digital experience that provides SMEs with access to spending and savings data, premium content and the ability to book travel through a personalized portal. Travel managers also have access to benefits such as loyalty upgrades and a peer-to-peer network with key learnings from other SMBs.
We continue to meet the changing needs of meeting planners and business event strategists, providing them with the tools and flexibility needed in an uncertain environment. The program includes tools and resources for hybrid events, flexible and rewarding offerings, and partnerships to enhance the meeting experience for in-person and hybrid meetings.
We also recently launched our Luxury Advisor portal, another unique digital experience for our luxury customers to access robust content, luxury program information and a streamlined booking experience.
We will continue to improve these programs and platforms by listening to our customers’ needs and working with them to achieve their goals. We will also continue to offer more destinations, hotels and experiences to choose from.
Our next article with IHG, an interview with Julienne Smith, director of development for the Americas, will explore how loyalty is a key part of the brand’s broader growth strategy.
For more information on IHG’s new loyalty program, visit the IHG One Rewards homepage.
This content was created in collaboration between IHG Hotels & Resorts and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.