As chains merge, planners say such schemes can add value. But restrictions on how points can be used are increasingly a concern.
By Kim Benjamin, Untangled
In September, AccorHotels completed its acquisition of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, the latest merger to impact the hospitality industry. Other deals of note include Marriott’s merger with Starwood in 2016 and Wyndham’s takeover of La Quinta earlier this year.
Hotel mergers are consolidating properties, leading to higher prices, steeper food and beverage minimums, less ability to play venues off of one another, and loyalty program merger headaches. Amid such consolidation, do event planners still care about loyalty programmes?
Marine Debatte, head of event solutions, Asia Pacific, at BI Worldwide, says hotels would do well to rethink what they offer in terms of loyalty programs and how these can be useful to planners. Points and free nights are great, she notes, if the planner is allowed to access them; increasingly however, this is not the case.
“Having the option to get business advantages or value-adds such as complimentary inspection nights, free meeting room access, early check-in or late check-out, lounge access, or a foot massage at the end of a trip are useful to both the individual event planner (or team) and the business,” she says. “With incentives, the rewards have to be targeted if you want the programme to be successful. If your offering is not desirable then why would I pursue it?”
Zoe Cheng, director, business at X2 Creative, believes that loyalty schemes still can go some way toward encouraging the use of particular hotels. “It also gives an agency a better competitive advantage on price and a bit of ‘know-how’ on the venues,” she said.
But for Emma Kennard, operations manager at agency Drp’s in-house venue sourcing division Venuepot, a loyalty programme is an added perk, but it’s not the driving force behind the choice of venue.
“It needs to be right for the client,” she says. “The hoops you have to jump through to get your points isn’t really worth the hassle. We would still book a venue regardless if it had a loyalty scheme or not.”
And as Grace Hopkins, senior producer at INVNT points out, the agency builds strong relationships with hotels that consistently provide a positive experience to clients and guests. This always takes priority over loyalty scheme benefits.
Does compliance, especially among large agencies, inhibit planners from accessing loyalty benefits? Debatte believes it does and says that in order to remain effective, incentive schemes and loyalty benefits need to be adapted or flexible.
Cheng says that while compliance can be an issue for larger agencies, this might not be the case for mid-sized or smaller ones.
“Generally, we work with smaller budgets so the loyalty programme would help the team to first know the hotel better and secondly, to use such a programme reward for internal purposes,” she says.
Event planners see a divide on when and how loyalty bonuses are rewarded — going to the end client or the planner. As Hopkins notes, policies vary among agencies and are largely dependent on the kind of events they produce.
“Typically points/rewards are collected by the agency rather than an individual producer,” she says. “These points or rewards could then be used to offset event crew travel costs, to thank clients with a dinner or hotel stay, or be used towards future event costs for that client.”
In Debatte’s experience, it all depends on corporate policies and the rules they set. For example, she says some purchasing departments would say that an intermediary shouldn’t benefit from the corporation’s spending and “would forbid us to get the points.” They consider points as money and are not ready to leave it on the table.