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Separate and Not Always Equal

Why loyalty programs are a must-have for the hotel and hospitality industry.



Loyalty points at Aloft New Orleans Downtown (225 Baronne St.) can be used for hotel stays, airline miles or at Amazon.com.

courtesy of Aloft New Orleans Downtown

The customer may always be right, but they’re not always equal. For the hotel industry, customers who are part of a loyalty program will always reign superior.

Loyalty programs are essentially a marketing tool instituted by a business to reward customers for making purchases that are specific to that brand, and therefore remain loyal to the company. For hotels, they are essential for growth, retaining customers and boosting reputation.

Reward programs may vary from immediate perks, like upgraded rooms and complimentary wifi, to points good toward future hotel stays — all are perks designed to improve customer retention. According to a February 2013 article in Forbes magazine, keeping an existing customer is seven times less expensive than acquiring a new one—making these programs a smart tool for both the business and the consumer.

Following is a look at a few standout reward programs currently offered by New Orleans hotels.
 

Aloft New Orleans Downtown
 

Aloft New Orleans Downtown’s loyalty program, SPG: Starwood Preferred Guests, runs though Starwood Hotels. The program encompasses all the Starwood properties, including Aloft, the W Hotel and Westin.

“This rewards program is a free membership where the more you stay, the more you get,” explains Maureen Greany, director of sales at Aloft.

The program offers three levels: preferred, gold and platinum. Here, members can earn points in a variety of ways, but staying at the hotel is often the most popular. Preferred members receive 2 points for every dollar spent, while Gold and Platinum receive 3 points. Once members earn points, they can be used toward complimentary hotel stays, airline miles (SPG partners with airlines to run special deals) or at Amazon.com.

SPG members also receive perks and are immediately recognized upon checking in. This could result in an upgraded room, free wifi, or a personalized welcome gift. At Aloft, the welcome gift could be a handwritten note and a personalized New Orleans-theme treat like pralines or Zapp’s chips—even a free drink at the bar. Greany says that people often choose points over a gift, though, as “a praline is great, but points get you somewhere.” There are no blackout dates for any level to use points. “Even during Mardi Gras, you cannot be blacked out,” she says.  

Once members reach platinum level, the perks really start to feel VIP. Here guests are treated with their own concierge and access to the club lounges, along with a guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout.

But for all members, rewards are about personalizing the experience. Just by filling out preferences, guests are treated to requests that are addressed the minute they check in, including things like an extra bottled water, a higher room or extra pillows. For platinum members, it may be that you’d like fresh flowers in the room. Greany says, “If we think it’s going to make their stay better, we’ll do it.” (She did mention that a stack of dollars would not be included in this request.)
 

The New Orleans Hotel Collection
 

This independent collection of hotels based in New Orleans joined the Stash program about two years ago. According to Marc Becker, the area director of marketing, sales and public relations, the New Orleans Hotel Collection chose this program because “it’s on a volunteer basis, and we can remain independent to do business the way we like doing business.”

With Stash, the program is more flexible but tracks points and members for its member hotels. For the New Orleans Hotel Collection, this means customers earn a whopping five points per dollar, along with the special promotions that regularly accompany double or triple points to be used at any Stash hotel.

“As a hotelier, we can set our price value based upon our needs—lower in low season and higher in high season—just as you would paying per dollar,” says Becker. Some major programs don’t give you that flexibility, and the cost is a set number of points, which makes it relatively unique to Stash.”

In addition, the New Orleans Hotel Collection focuses on a guest recognition program that rewards members on arrival. This could be anything from an upgraded room to a bottle of champagne, which is currently being offered at La Marais. The hotel also offers free wifi, bottled (local) water, free drinks, and a free breakfast.

“I want people to feel like they’re staying in our guest room and not a shopping mall,” Becker says. “You don’t have to be a member to get the extras.” Becker adds that making the guest comfortable is the first step to loyalty.


The Bourbon Orleans Hotel is part of The New Orleans Hotel Collection,
which joined the worldwide Stash Hotel Rewards Program two years ago.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Hotel Collection



Windsor Court Hotel
 

While the Windsor Court, an iPrefer hotel, has a loyalty program set up through Preferred Hotels, they also have their own, less formal program for VIP customers.

Under the Preferred umbrella, the hotel offers guests a tiered system where Preferred guests receive one point per dollar, free wifi and late checkout. The perks increase for Gold and Platinum members, with gifts such as complimentary champagne and extra bonus points.

But the true value is in the hotel’s less formal loyalty program that truly honors VIP guests. Tara Minamoto was hired to serve as a customer experience manager, a position that is unique to the hotel. Minamoto works closely with the operations team to handle improvements and inefficiencies, and alongside sales and marketing for online reports. In a nutshell, her role is to ensure that guests have a seamless experience.

“There’s also a VIP manager on-hand, too,” Minamoto says. “We have repeat guests who stay every week, and may store their reading glasses and charger.” The hotel embraces this in order for the property to feel like a second home to regular visitors.

Minamoto explains that it’s her job to know the guest. “If [they] like bourbon and grapes and bananas, that will be the welcome amenity.” She says that the hotel works to make these individuals feel like family, which helps to retain customers. “We know their pets as well as their kids,”she says. Pets may get their own plush bed and treats, while the kids may receive a New Orleans-themed cookie, mask and beads.
 


The Windsor Court hotel is both part of the worldwide group of Preferred Hotels
and has it’s own, less formal program for VIPs.

Photo courtesy of Windsor Court Hotel



The Roosevelt Hotel
 

The venerable Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria property in the French Quarter, falls under the Hilton Company, which utilizes the HHonors loyalty program. “This allows our travelers to utilize our full portfolio of 12 brands worldwide and then, in turn, decide where they would rather reap the rewards,” explains Tod Chambers, general manager of the Roosevelt.

Whether a guest stays at a Doubletree or the Roosevelt, they receive benefits. “Some stay in hotels convenient for their business and then use the points to redeem in a luxury hotel,” Chambers says, “others may stay in hotels picked by their companies and redeem their points for a trip of convenience, like a child relocating to college or summer road trip.”

Under the HHonors program, members can earn points anywhere and use them for a multitude of rewards—even airline miles. “Those travelers strategizing their approach earn bonus points or airline/rail points by choosing the “My Way Earning Style Option,” says Chambers. “In addition, when that traveler achieves Silver, Gold or Diamond Elite status they receive bonus points. Finally, they receive extra HHonors Bonus Points when using one of our Hilton HHonors credit cards. All of these add up fast and help attain incredible redemption awards.”

Not only is the program vast and flexible, it retains customers by offering an experience. Chambers says the hotel chain’s points cater to those of any interest, including everything from a golfer’s paradise in Phoenix’s Biltmore Arizona to a tour of Hagia Sophia in old-town Istanbul at the Doubletree in Turkey. “Perhaps mud masks at the Reykjavik Hilton or a roller-coaster ride in Orlando?” Chambers says. “All these experiences, combined with the assurance of a quality stay with admirable hospitality, helps retain the Hilton visitor, as well as encourage those who have not experienced the awe-inspiring Roosevelt New Orleans to come and become our new loyal customers.”

In New Orleans, the Roosevelt hotel adds a bit of lagniappe to the stay. Chambers explains that Diamond members receive an additional $30 credit to use in the hotel’s outlets, be it a quick breakfast at Teddy’s Café or a cocktail in the famed Sazerac Bar.


Part of the Hilton brand, the Roosevelt New Orleans falls under
the company’s HHonors loyalty program.

Photo courtesy of Roosevelt Hotel
 


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