From August 2018, Marriott International, the largest global hotel chain, will unveil a unified and largest loyalty program for its 110 million members to seamlessly book, earn and redeem their points for the first time ever across 29 participating brands and 6500 hotels in 127 countries and territories. In this interview, NEAL JONES, chief sales and marketing officer, Middle East & Africa, Marriott International, speaks to OBINNA EMELIKE on the rationale for the new system, the benefits and other guest-oriented initiatives by the Maryland, USA-based hospitality giant.
With on average 20 percent more points for every dollar spent, the unified loyalty program is first-of-its-kind, but why are you offering so many points to guests, and why did you decide to unify the programs?
One of the key benefits of the merger was the ability to unlock the full potential of our award winning loyalty programs. Today one out of every two guests at our hotels globally is a member of our loyalty program. Loyalty is the lynchpin of our success and key to our strategy.
Together, our programs represent the most awarded travel loyalty space. In August, we’ll be bringing together Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and SPG under one program with one set of benefits. This is what our 110 million members have been waiting for. As one program, Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG will give members access to the largest, most extraordinary and diverse collection of properties in the world – to seamlessly book, earn and redeem for the first time ever across 29 participating brands and 6500 hotels in 127 countries and territories.
We structured the new program to offer the best of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guests programs. Marriott Rewards was noted as a program that offered great rewards for all guests, particularly for members with modest number of stays. SPG provided particularly attractive rewards for travelers at the upper tiers. Under the new program, Marriott has stepped up its game by combining the best of both, with attractive offerings at each tier. In addition, our new program increases the number of points earned for each dollar of spend and offers additional opportunities for members to earn points.
We have made earning status easier with new tiers and enhanced the best benefits in the industry. It is easier to redeem with no blackout dates portfolio-wide.
Our members love travel to pursue their passions – seeking out incredible experiences that will last a lifetime that they can share with friends and family and on social media. We have added 110,000 new experiences on Moments in 1000 destinations and have announced Moments Live, a collection of premiere musical and culinary events powered by our partnerships with iconic brands.
We have created a loyalty program that is unmatched anywhere in the world. And we have done this because our members are important to us and we listen to them.
How have the Nigerian growing business travelers and leisure guests responded to your loyalty programs in the past and how best do you think they can benefit from the new loyal program?
Our history and legacy on the continent has given us great insights into the market and the consumers in this part of the world. In fact, Nigeria was one of the key markets for our dedicated loyalty consumer research last year.
We have been engaging with our loyalty members in Nigeria on a regular basis through their passion points, for example, the SPG Golf tournament in Port Harcourt. And this has allowed us to build our brand equity with them.
With a strong footprint in the country, the Nigerian traveler is familiar with our brands and what they stand for. This gives us the opportunity to tap into the growing Nigerian outbound travel business. As Nigerian travelers explore the world, we believe they will look for our brands and our new loyalty program allows them to seamlessly book, earn and redeem across our portfolio globally.
There are more mega travelers than ever before going to more places around the world. The opportunity to cultivate loyalty with the world’s most frequent travelers has never been greater. Modern travelers are passionate and adventurous, gravitating towards brands that make their trips more meaningful and fulfilling.
The new program is bound to resonate with the aspirational and affluent Nigerian traveler. Members can earn more, earn faster and can pursue their passions which is what makes them the industry’s leading and richest loyalty programs.
How many SPG hotels do we have in Nigeria and how many Marriott hotels in Nigeria are participating in the unified deal?
Currently we operate four hotels in Nigeria including Sheraton Lagos Hotel, Sheraton Abuja Hotel, Four Points by Sheraton Lagos and Le Meridien Ogeyi Place. All of these hotels participate in our SPG program and members can earn and redeem their points while staying at these hotels.
Beyond rooms and hotel services, how else can guests use points earned in the unified program and how long will the new program last?
Exclusive member-only experiences can be redeemed with points on Marriott Rewards Moments and SPG Moments powered by partners like the NFL, Major League Baseball, Mercedes-AMG Petronas, the US Open and Universal Music Group. Internationally, these include exclusive member concerts, VIP experiences to coveted sports events like the Super Bowl and music festivals like Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, as well as, hands-on master classes with some of the world’s top athletes, musicians and chefs, including actor and musician Jared Leto, Chef Daniel Boulud and Mercedes-AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton, among others.
Closer home within Middle East and Africa, members have had access to exclusive Moments at Dubai International Jazz Festival, music concerts like Gwen Stefani and Craig David, VIP experiences during F1 in Bahrain & Abu Dhabi with Mercedes AMG Petronas, NBL and Colour Run in South Africa and awe-inspiring experiences like meditation at sunrise in the Great Pyramids of Giza and a Behind the Scenes access to La Perleby Dragone, Dubai’s number 1 show, where members are enthralled by an awe-inspiring preview of what goes into the making of the show’s breathtaking acrobatic stunts and the most thrilling water and light effects. Other Moments also include masterclass with renowned chefs, mixologists, DJs and photographers. To find out the latest Moments that are live currently, members can check SPG Moments and Marriott Rewards Moments.
Aside Marriott.com and SPG.com, which other platforms can guests book to enjoy more benefits?
Beginning in August, travelers will have the ability to book stays across the entire portfolio for the first time on Marriott.com, SPG.com and the Marriott and SPG apps, or by contacting customer engagement centers.
Can you explain how the reward system works for would-be guests and those skeptical of the program?
Beginning in August, members will be able to combine their separate accounts into a single account spanning the entire loyalty portfolio. Regardless of which account they choose or which website they use, they will continue to have access to Marriott’s entire loyalty platform – the same set of benefits and seamless access to book, earn or redeem at 29 participating brands and 6,500 hotels in 127 countries.
On average, members will earn 20% or more points for every dollar spent (50% richer for SPG, 15% richer for MR Gold/Platinum). Members will earn 10 points per $1 spent and can do so on all eligible charges including food, beverages and some incidental purchases to earn faster. What is more, they can do this with no blackout dates. They can earn one free night with as little as $750 of spend (less for elites).
Members will be able to earn and redeem across the entire portfolio of participating hotels and earn elevated benefits and elite status faster with new elite tiers. For example, earning Silver elite status after just ten nights and Gold elite status after just 25 nights will become standard in all three programs. With Platinum elite status earned after 50 nights and Platinum Premier elite status earned after 75 nights, these tiers will become easier to attain. In addition, all Platinum Premier members surpassing 100 nights and $20,000 of spend will enjoy the highest level of personalized service – the popular ambassador program – along with all the other benefits in that tier.
We know members value experiences and therefore we have expanded our Moments platform with once in a lifetime experiences that allow members to redeem their points to pursue their passions.
We have created One Program providing Endless Inspiration for our members to travel with passion and purpose.