Diana McIlwrick and Jessica Carlson at PAICE 2016 Diana McIlwrick and Jessica Carlson at PAICE 2016

The lowdown on loyalty

Loyalty programmes: a term that is often followed by a cloud of negative stigma, with words like oversaturation, lack of differentiation and privacy concerns coming to mind.
If used correctly, meeting planners, event organisers, corporate travel executives and business travellers can reap rewards beyond a dollar value. But after so many years of spam and sub-par points value programmes, how can an already-wary business events industry ensure that it’s getting recognised and rewarded appropriately?

Hotel loyalty programmes have been in a state of evolution over the last few years, reflective of societal trends and moving more towards recognition of the individual guest and their personal preferences rather than simply a points exchange.
Where traditionally they’ve been seen as a transaction for individual corporate and leisure travellers, hotel loyalty programmes have moved into the meeting planner sphere, offering loyalty for booking meetings, events, conferences and large incentive groups with benefits stretching into soft enhancements for the booker and delegates while in-house.
AccorHotels has undertaken significant research into its own Le Club AccorHotels programme over the past few years, and has since introduced a fully refreshed offering that includes an enhanced Meeting Planner arm.
Meeting Planner members have all the same advantages as Le Club AccorHotels members with the addition of being rewarded for booking meetings and conferences. A new look website and app have also been introduced to streamline the process, where members can view and manage their membership at the touch of a button.
The Le Club AccorHotels programme has won ‘Best Hotel Loyalty Programme of the Year in Asia Pacific’ at the Freddie Awards for the last two years running.
The research found that clients were unwilling to subscribe to a loyalty programme because they’d been burned in the past by programmes that were more frustrating than they were helpful. Lack of sustainable benefits and company policy issues were also contributing factors.
‘There are a lot of people that say ‘you know what I won’t bother’ because they’ve had those difficulties and troubles in the past,’ says Jessica Carlson, sales manager – meetings and events, AccorHotels New Zealand. ‘And that’s where we had to step back and think okay if we’re going to focus on the meetings and events segment, we need to relook the programme and change how we’re doing it so that it’s beneficial for our clients – and that’s what we’re doing.’
Key findings from the research were that members want to feel their loyalty is rewarded; they want to be recognised both by name and by status as frequent returning guests; they want to be inspired and for AccorHotels to share innovations, best practices and new trends with them to keep them top of their game; they want to feel appreciated and be thanked for choosing AccorHotels over its competition time and again; they want to be included and involved and to work together in partnership; and they want to be sold to and for the selling to be an informative and valuable exchange of time.
‘Consumers are educated, and they know where a programme adds value and doesn’t. Our members want to have easy access and a clear understanding of the benefits and how to redeem them.’
Carlson says a focus of the new AccorHotels Le Club Meeting Planner programme is ensuring each hotel is able to build stronger relationships with planners, making repeat business easier by tailoring member profiles to individual requirements.
‘Our clients, especially millennials, they want to feel special. And with our new Le Club AccorHotels Meeting Planner programme our hotels are able to offer personalised service based on our clients’ preferences and make sure that they feel looked after.’
Carlson says one of the biggest benefits of the programme is that each hotel is able to tailor its offering to its strengths.
‘For example, a CBD hotel may offer complimentary car parking for the organiser where parking is scarce in the city, but our regional hotels which have ample free parking may choose an enhanced morning tea or complimentary use of our in-house data projector and screen to recognise a Gold Meeting Planner member.
All members also benefit from free wifi while staying in-house, which Carlson says has been a huge driver in the programme and came across overwhelmingly in the research as the most desired benefit.
Diana McIlwrick, director of Queenstown-based event management and destination management company Dinamics, is a LeClub AccorHotels Platinum Meeting Planner member.
McIlwrick says one of the best things about the AccorHotels programme is that the points are valuable, easy to use, and can be used anywhere in the world.
‘You’re recognised as being a member and you’re looked after for it, so right from when you submit your first proposal you’re recognised as someone that uses AccorHotels properties regularly. You get to speak to the right people, you get the right rate, they understand you and your client, and they pitch the right hotel to meet your clients’ needs and requirements.’
McIlwrick also notes the programme as being easy to use, with the points allocated quickly, once the invoice has been paid in full.
‘The best thing about the AccorHotels programme is that it looks after the conference organiser as well as the client. The wonderful opportunity as a conference manager of getting points is that it allows you to go on famils to look at the next property for your client in the future.’
Points can also be used to benefit clients in the form of discounts on future meetings and events.
Currently there are over 6000 AccorHotels Meeting Planner members in Asia Pacific, and over 4500 events have been held at AccorHotels YTD, generating $45 million euro in revenue from Meeting Planner members, up 18% year on year.
Carlson says the programme is constantly being tweaked to ensure it offers the most benefits for planners and is easy to use.
'We are currently working on the ability to book meeting and events space for up to 30 delegates with availability direct on the website, which is set to launch in 2017 with select hotels.'