Loyalty Goes Both Ways for Hotel Chain

I don’t know if it’s crazy, brilliant marketing or much ado about nothing.

InterContinental Hotels Group (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza) wants you to stay more at their place so you can, uh, stay at someone else’s place.  Yes, that’s right.

As a Priority Club member (their loyalty program) I was surprised to receive the following e-mail this month:

Click on Image to Enlarge

I quickly read it, trashed it, and then realized I’d better retrieve it to take another look.

During the past decade, IHG has evolved its loyalty program here and overseas.

In 2006, the company launched what appears to be the same concept to its UK loyalty program membership, and here’s what one of their executives said at the time (Steve Sickel, Senior Vice President, Multibrand and Relationship Marketing, IHG):

“We recognise that our frequent Holiday Inn guests want to make the most out of their valuable leisure time, enjoying weekends away for free and spending quality time with their partner or family.  Even though we are the largest hotel group in the world, we can’t be everywhere.  Now with the Any Hotel, Anywhere reward we can offer our members even more freedom to choose where they stay when using their points.  Loyalty is a two way street, so by giving our members this greater flexibility, we believe they’ll stay even more loyal to us.”

Back in the US, InterContinental Hotels Group has had a similar program that allows points to be converted into American Express pre-paid lodging cards that can be used at any hotel anywhere that accepts the AMEX card.  Here’s the IHG rationale for this program:  “Even though IHG is the world’s largest hotel company with more than 3,800 properties in nearly 100 countries, we cannot be everywhere our guests travel. Moreover, we view loyalty as a two-way street.  You give us your business when you’re on the road, so in return we give you the ultimate in choice and flexibility by allowing you to redeem points toward stays at any hotel, anywhere.”

Now, Hotels Anywhere is the company’s newest loyalty evolution, a global launch and expansion of its existing pre-paid lodging card, which gives consumers even greater flexibility and immediate booking capabilities at non-IHG hotels.”

I get the marketing benefit of giving the customer more choice (“We understand that we don’t have hotels in every location that you want to visit”)  and I’m sure Priority Club members are pleased.  Still, the concept of opening the door to the competition is a bit troubling.  However, the estimated benefit of achieving, or at least attempting to encourage, greater usage via a more liberal rewards program evidently won the day.  Also, the redemptions at non-IHG locations seem expensive so usage may be limited, and there may be financial implications (i.e., benefits) to lowering the company’s liability with outstanding rewards points.  So, I’m off the fence on the IHG side.

Headline For Marketers:  Respecting the customer and facilitating greater choice and flexibility are positive steps and can help build and maintain loyalty.  And, in order to break from the pack, a certain dose of bold and different is often required.  What do you think?

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.