|Christie Hicks, senior vice president, Starwood Sales Organization|
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. in October is launching SPG Pro, a loyalty program for meeting and travel professionals. An extension of its Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program, SPG Pro marks the first time accredited travel agents will have the opportunity to earn Starpoints and elite status with SPG through a combination of B2B and personal bookings.
Effective immediately, meeting and travel professionals can register for SPG Pro at www.spg.com/pro. Registered professionals, as well as SPG members who influence group, event and corporate travel, will begin earning Starpoints for business booked starting October 16. Members have the opportunity to earn any status in the SPG including the “Ambassador” level which is given to those booking 100 nights a year. Upgrades that are earned through SPG Pro can be gifted to others.
We spoke to Christie Hicks, senior vice president, Starwood Sales Organization, who explained that when travel professionals register they will be assigned an account number, just as SPG guests are today. When the professional makes a booking for themselves, for a leisure travel client or for a meeting, it’s all credited to that one account number, which makes it easier to acquire elite status and awards within SPG.
“The same person could have a number for meeting and a number for their individual travel. We’re going to merge those programs,” said Hicks. “You’re one person but you wear different hats at different times but we record you and all your activity together. That we get an opportunity to recognize you as such, we think is a pretty interesting opportunity and one that nobody has taken advantage of yet.”
The program, two years in the making, launches October 16. With the launch, the Starwood Preferred Planner program for meeting planners will sunset and accounts will be transitioned into SPG Pro.
SPG Pro is global. “No matter where you do your business you’re going to get recognized for it,” said Hicks. “It’s one more way to help us recognize our key constituents around the world. People’s travel is becoming more and more global. Whether you’re in Bangkok, Beijing or Bangalore, you’ve got that opportunity to be recognized because we’ve got consistent information on you. We know what your personal preferences are. We can take advantage of the information you’ve been willing to share with us and share it with our hotels and make you and your travelers feel special.
“This also gives us a 360-degree view of the person,” said Hicks. “We see customers now as a meeting professional or as a travel professional or as an individual traveler or perhaps they’re sometimes making decisions for a group of friends or on behalf of others. To recognize them and to have a program that recognizes group transient leisure as well as personal travel in one program, we think makes it very special.”
Starwood says that B2B business accounts for nearly 70 percent of its overall room revenue and is comprised of corporate travel, meetings and events and leisure and wholesale travel. Hicks said the top 1 percent of accounts drives 40 percent of Starwood’s B2B revenue.
Starwood is also tapping into existing SPG Platinum-level guests who may be senior executives, business consultants or small business owners who book meetings and events at hotels. Starwood research shows that one-third of SPG elite members are B2B decision makers. SPG currently drives more than 50 percent of Starwood’s occupancy to its 1,200 hotels.
Hicks said that SPG Pro will also help Starwood extend its reach beyond its managed accounts to attract new businesses, regional organizations and “a next generation of travel professionals.”
“New global travel patterns are driving more corporate, leisure and meetings business than ever before and with each 1 percent share shift in this business, we add $80 million in revenue,” said Hicks.
To promote the program, Starwood is launching a $30 million campaign showing a series of “behind-the-scenes” photographs of meeting and travel professionals on the job, a move it feels goes beyond simply showing off guest rooms and meeting space. The photography will be shown in SPG Pro communications, including trade magazine advertising.