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ExCeL London - 24-25 February 2021
Accor's Jeff Doane talks…
Accor Live Limitless, or ALL, is the new loyalty program officially launched in mid-January from the Parisian-based hotel company. The program features some standard elements, like tiered benefits that include—depending on status level—member discounts, early check-in/late check-out, welcome drink, upgrades, executive lounge access, free breakfast, as well as some new perks. BTN senior editor for lodging and meetings Donna M. Airoldi spoke with Accor SVP of sales and marketing for North and Central America Jeff Doane, who was part of the team that developed the new program. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
BTN: What was the impetus behind revamping Accor's rewards program?
Doane: If you look at what Accor has been through the past three or so years, they went on a bit of a buying spree and bought a lot of companies. They bought the company I worked for, Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel, as well as Mövenpick, SBE, Mantra, Mantis. A number of different hotel companies came into the fold. One of the big things we're trying to accomplish is to create the glue to put all these brands together so that your target audience and your engaged customers who are already members of all the various loyalty programs understand that we are all connected. When they travel to a city in which we have hotels, they have different options as opposed to what we were able to offer three years ago. That is one of the strategic things we were trying to accomplish.
BTN: What differentiates your program from other hotel company loyalty programs?
Doane: We recognized two things: One, you need to have a compelling and engaging loyalty program in today's travel world. To me it's table stakes, especially in North America with Hilton and Marriott. [Second], we wanted to launch something even bigger than that. It's more than just an earn-and-burn program. When a guest becomes a member of our program, we're trying to let them know we know who they are, and we're going to deliver personalized experiences to them. Moving from just a loyalty program to more of a recognition program was a big part of what we tried to accomplish. That is the big differentiator for customers today.
BTN: So how is ALL different from Accor's previous loyalty program?
Doane: We're offering [ALL members] a best price guarantee if they book on our website … with a meaningful refund of 25 percent if they find a lower price elsewhere. We also gave elite members a number of suite night upgrades depending on their level. We created new levels to recognize members who are very loyal to us. Previously our highest level was Platinum. Now Diamond is a higher tier for those members who are our very best guests. A tier even above that is called Limitless. We also launched the ability to earn and utilize points for food and beverage experiences. You no longer need to be a guest in the hotel to use your points and/or earn points while you're eating in our restaurants. Beyond that, we launched a number of Elite Experiences, where members can use points to buy experiences that may not be available to customers elsewhere. On New Year's Eve [last year, during the soft launch of the new ALL program,] customers could use their points to buy [entrance to] an event at our Novotel Times Square [on the] spectacular patio that overlooks all of Times Square. We've also managed to secure a couple of tables at the Tony Awards dinner that honors the winners. ALL members can use their points to buy these [kinds of] experiences.
BTN: For the tiers, is that cumulative or must it be for a calendar year? How did things work for people coming in from other loyalty programs?
Doane: It's for a calendar year. We went a long way to make sure we were honoring previous status and bridging any gaps that may exist and that we had an open line of communication with those customers so they didn't feel like—or weren't—losing any status or anything as they were migrating to the new program. We've gotten pretty good feedback in terms of them recognizing that.
BTN: Tell me about the technology behind the program.
Doane: We launched an entire new customer-facing website and app, and both revolve around the loyalty program. They are much more visually stimulating and include the things we talked about. We wanted the app in particular to be something useful to our customers and guests in their everyday lives. It's in its infancy now, but as we add partners and add features to the app, it'll become more useful for our customers to do simple things [when traveling] like what's the weather, what's the traffic from the airport. We're looking at partnering with ride-sharing companies. These kinds of features in one application makes it much more useful to the guest and something they find indispensable.
BTN: What about technology for the hotels?
Doane: Behind the scenes is a platform that allows us to better manage all the interactions we have with our guests in terms of earning points and using points, and the F&B side. But it also allows us to track better the customer and their preferences. So that part of the platform is really the differentiating part, but it's behind the scenes. It lets us know better the sorts of things our guests want from their experiences at our hotels. And then the hotels can access it to better deliver against those expectations.
BTN: Do you mean you're using artificial intelligence and other data to look at past behavior and serve up something similar when they go to their next destination?
Doane: Yes. That's exactly it. With applications like that, of course, the longer it's in place, the more it learns and the better informed we are. We're never trying to eliminate the human element of the experience. A big part of our customers' expectations is not just do we know you from a tech perspective, but do our colleagues know you and are they delivering on these experiences? At the end of the day, that still is our business, which is people delivering service to our guests.
BTN: It looks like not all Accor hotels are participating in the program. Is it by brand or by individual hotel?
Doane: It's more regionalized in nature. In North America they're all participating in the program. There are just some on a regional basis, in Asia Pacific and a few in Europe that opted out of the program. In some cases, it's a bit of a wait and see type of thing. We're working with them so they can see how valuable it is and would be to them and hoping they will engage in the future.
BTN: It's always tricky with business travelers wanting points and corporate travel buyers wanting their travelers to stay in their hotel program. How do you work with companies on this?
Doane: It is definitely a case-by-case basis. We have entire business travel sales teams that work with the customers. Because everyone has different rules on how that works, each of our customers needs to figure out how to comply [with their own company policies]. Then it's a matter of making sure travelers are aware of the program to begin with and the tenets of the program and why it might be meaningful to them. Naturally that's a big source of our membership base, our B2B customers. Absolutely.
BTN: Does ALL extend to meetings?
Doane: We launched [the ALL] Meeting Planner program in North America. [Editor's note: It launched on Jan. 1 for North and Central America, and is the first time Fairmont, Swissôtel and MGallery properties in North America are a part of Accor's global meeting planner loyalty program.]. So event and meeting planners have the ability, again, every company has different rules about this, but assuming it's OK with the company, they can become members of the loyalty program and earn points for the meetings and events they plan.
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