The Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) is the world’s largest alliance of independent hotel brands, supporting 35 hotel brands with more than 500 hotels across 85 countries, each leveraging the DISCOVERY guest recognition programme to drive loyalty with guests.
This alliance allows small and independent hotels compete with global hospitality brands, while still operating independently and giving consumers the opportunity to earn rewards across their many brands.
In this episode of “Let’s Talk Loyalty”, we are joined by Kristi Gole, VP, Head of Product at Global Hotel Alliance to hear how this model works and benefits both the brands and consumer members.
Learn how GHA evolved just prior to the global pandemic, and how they responded to the pandemic with “Live Local” offers as well as finding more ways to reward travellers.
1) Kristi Gole, VP, Head of Product at Global Hotel Alliance
2) GHA’s DISCOVERY guest recognition programme
1 (4s): Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Thomas, and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.
Are you leading a loyalty program in the UK and wondering what will be important in the future? Would you love to hear a brand new research into loyalty trends so that you could figure out how to future proof your program?
Well, to launch Collinsons new partnership with Salesforce and Salesforce’s new loyalty management module, these two leaders in loyalty are hosting an exclusive event in London, all about future proofing loyalty.
It’s being hosted at Salesforce Tower right in the heart of the city of London on Thursday, the 12th of May.
So to get your free invitation, simply register on invite.salesforce.com forward slash future proofing loyalty, it promises to be a wonderful afternoon, a chance to meet and mingle with other loyalty professionals and be inspired with some wonderful ideas for the future of your loyalty program.
Hello, and welcome to episode 218 of Let’s Talk Loyalty, an interview about the largest
travel loyalty program that you might not have heard of because I certainly hadn’t.
The Global Hotel Alliance owns and operates the GHA discovery program.
The world’s largest loyalty program for independent hotel brands is encompasses more than 500 hotels across 35 brands in 85 countries in 2022 GHA discovery expects to surpass 20 million members.
So I was delighted to be joined today by Kristi Gole VP and Head of Product at Global Hotel Alliance to understand this loyalty program, which just relaunched in late 2021. 1 (2m 25s): I hope you enjoy listening to her insights on the unique challenges and opportunities of building a loyalty program without points throughout the last two extraordinary years. So Kristi, Gole joining me today from The Global Hotel Alliance. Welcome to Let S Talk Loyalty. 2 (2m 47s): Thanks so much and pleasure to be here. 1 (2m 50s): I have to confess Christie. I know, I suppose probably the least about hotel loyalty as an overall sector. My regular will know an X airlines, so definitely a passion for travel, but I actually randomly got into a loyalty in the telecoms business. So, so a whole different, whole different experience to what you guys are doing. There you go. Yeah. Yeah. So listen, and the reason I’m prefacing the conversation with that is that I wasn’t aware of the GHA Alliance as much as I love all of the individual hotel brands. I had realized you had this incredible group behind it. So, and so obviously doing great work now on the building of the brand and obviously the loyalty proposition, which we’re here to talk about. 1 (3m 38s): So listen, let me kick off with my usual opening question, Kristi. I think, you know, that I love to know what to loyalty professionals admire and respect and I guess be loyal to, because I think you’re going to give us a slightly left of field answer to a standard loyalty program. So, so what are you going to tell us? 2 (3m 58s): Yeah. Well, thanks, Paul. And I’m just a touch on when you mentioned you, haven’t heard of JJ and I hear that quite often and I’m smiling at it cause we’re a challenger brand and I’m absolutely, there’s a couple of journalists we’ve impacted this way. I’ve worked the largest program. You’ve never heard of this kind of behind the scenes guy, but now we’re getting more and more to the forefront and the program has started to gain them a lot more attention. So it’s exciting. And that’s why I’m happy to speak more about that today with you, but to your question of, you know, what are people loyal to and myself included? I would say, even though I’m a loyalty, our business as loyalty for a loyalty program that connects all these brands and these hotels. And so that’s our core product and I’m responsible for product, but I don’t really think in terms of loyalty. I don’t really separate it from just a customer experience and what are people to, it’s more of a psychological thing. 2 (4m 43s): It’s not really, there’s a program. I check the boxes for. So when I hear, what am I loyal to my first thought was just Google and it’s really been a Google search experience. So that from a, and that has been consistent for the last, you know, 10, 20 years that I’ve probably thought that way of, you know, if you think about user experience, you know, it’s such a clean UI, there’s such a beautiful, it’s crisp, it’s clean, there’s one call to action. There’s no decision fatigue. And the other part is user experience. So there’s very fast speed. It’s incredibly relevant for me. If I got any other search browser, I, the results are completely off the mark. I can’t I’m it’s counter-intuitive that frustrates me. I go to Google, it tells me pretty much what I’m looking for and they’re constantly updating it. 2 (5m 23s): And they’re not, over-complicating again, they’ve had the opportunity to have so many different products and services, but they don’t mess up that search experience. And so I’m incredibly willing to like that. And then there’s a whole suite of products I use after that, but okay. The other one actually is a loyalty program, but again, I don’t think I’m loyal to Amazon prime per se. I’m an, I always think I’m loyal to Amazon because the convenience, the speed now prime enables me to do that at a low cost, but I’m not thinking about a program per se. I’m just saying I’m am, I’m loyal to Amazon. And prime is just kind of a mechanism that makes me experience it the way I want to. So yeah, I still just think loyalty people aren’t really loyal to a program per se. They’re loyal to the products it offers. So for JJ, we have these 35, well, soon to be 42 a brand does it this summer. 2 (6m 7s): And we have, you know, 800 hotels, a hundred countries, people care about the hotel. They don’t care about our JJ discovery program, but they love that the is helping them experience those hotels better. And that’s what I mentioned. 1 (6m 18s): Yes. Yeah. Lovely answer. Very comprehensive Christy. Thank you for that. I would definitely agree with you that, you know, the world’s discovered Google and, and even through its journey, all commercializing its offering, it has managed to stay true to its core purpose. So I think you’re very clear there and spot on in terms of why would I be loyal to anything else actually, Google delivers on every single criteria that I want as a browser. So, you know, regardless of my search criteria, I think you’re absolutely right. So, and I will say that one of the reasons I called this podcast let’s talk loyalty rather than let’s talk loyalty programs was to have those kinds of conversations because at the end of the day, it is a feeling, you know, and it’s the feeling that drives the behavior. 1 (7m 7s): And we all know we’re here to drive profitable behavior, but if at the end of the day, that means, you know, I strip everything out of my product. It’s that the one thing people want then why not? You know, it’s a super nice proposition. 2 (7m 19s): Yeah, no, I completely agree. Loyalty. I mean, it spans, you know, the branding and positioning the emotional connection and then the operations is, did you have a connection that customer service and operations enable that? So to is yes. I completely agree. It’s how you feel about something. And so it spans all defense department. 1 (7m 33s): Yes. Yes. And I’m glad to hear as well that I’m not the only one that didn’t know the GHA or JJ discovery brands. Oh, it’s here. Or sometimes it’d be like, you know what, I’m supposed to be the experts at everything, but it’s hard to be, it’s hard to be perfect as I’ve often said. So anyway, we’re here to discover. So as a starting point, and maybe what you give us the background of the context for just the, The Global Hotel Alliance speakers, you know, I know some of your brands, as I’ve said, like an Antara for example is an absolute favorite. So yeah. So I have some wonderful memories going back immediacy now, and I think about Atara. So, so where did the concept come from in terms of, was it purely a loyalty play that the GHA was created for? 1 (8m 19s): Or was it also for things like, I don’t know, buying and procurement or, you know, other hotel requirements that just love to know the, the, the full purpose of the GHA? 2 (8m 29s): Absolutely. Well, actually it was founded in 2004, it was a startup back then started up in Geneva and it was a handful of brands and Oracle used to be Mike Gross. Who’s now been acquired by Oracle and it was simply founded on a B2B concept of ha you know, there’s all these very strong regional luxury hotel brands. And you mentioned, Ana is in many regions now, very strong in Europe and now Asia and Africa is putting around, but there’s these regional brands that were extremely relevant and, and strong in their own, in their own domain. But they weren’t really able to compete on the global scale with the likes of the big pro or the big, you know, the Marriott and Hilton. 2 (9m 10s): And so what they did is they came together and we created this Alliance. I say, we, it was five years prior to me joining, but they created this Alliance just to help them compete. So in terms of being able to negotiate partnerships, I’m a little bit procurement sales, sales contracts, discounts on technology. So kind of just basic operational and business aspects that came to be by 2009, very much, we realized all of our brands and hotels run the same system, they’re all on opera systems. And so we realized there was definitely the opportunity to bring in a direct to consumer component and loads of program just made the most sense because most of our brands didn’t have it or what they had. Wasn’t sufficient. It wasn’t on a larger scale. So I entered, we developed the program in 2009, we launched it 2010. 2 (9m 55s): And that was our first iteration. That was back when we had only 12 hotel brands, 320 hotels. And our first year we got a million members. And so that was fun. We started building it from scratch and we went through all the different turns of, you know, direct mail fulfillment, and the cost that went through that and we’d production facilities, different regions. And, and so a lot of interesting learnings on that. And then email marketing was extremely cost effective for us, very much all of our marketing efforts, since we had, you know, we’re running on a purse string, we had, we charge very low fees to our brands because that was just kind of where our fit. And so we had to be very, very, very mindful and creative and frugal with our costs. 2 (10m 37s): Ben. So direct marketing was perfect. As soon as the members came in, in additional life cycle communications, all of our promotional messaging, everything became email marketing, and then we developed an app. And so it became some push notifications as well, but everything became kind of direct to marketing consumers to try to engage our members wasn’t in the program. But so my role, largely, as you can tell, if I focused on that for the last decade, it was largely just marketing aspects of continuing to optimize our approach. We have since brought in a lot more brands, loyalty became kind of the business model was a big shift for us. It became our core product. And all of a sudden the other kind of B2B services are just a nice to have their Allah cards. Most of our brands are taking them, but really they’re joining and they’re, they’re staying within our Alliance because of what this loyalty program is bringing them. 2 (11m 19s): And, and very much it’s, it’s allowing them to compete on a global front and have the global reach and a very low cost alternative to running their program. And they can all do it in their own way and maintain their individuality. And we’re trying to educate our members that you can S you can really like indulge in these properties. You say, Anand Tara, the way that you just described that a lot of our brands are really having that same connection. We have Conde Nast and travel leisure. We have the top hotels they’re in our program, and it’s so exciting because we have all these and you can still get the benefits of recognition rewards across all these different brands. Even though they’re not connected, they’re not one program it’s independently owned. A lot of them are privately owned and we’re bringing them all together so that you truly are getting, you know, your earn and burn and down to your recognition and everything across all of those. 1 (12m 9s): So with that obviously brings dare. I said, complexity and my own, you know, again, interest is always piqued with, you know, how much convincing have you had to do. And maybe along the last, I think you said one, 2010, so nearly 12 years now of your program. Like how, how convinced are the individual owners and brands about the power of loyalty? Because, and the reason I asked that Christie is, you know, we have people listening across all sectors and sometimes it’s retail, or even convenience retail, where there’s tiny margins or telcos as I refer to. 1 (12m 49s): And most of the time, what we, what we’ll certainly what I had to had to do was defend the investment in loyalty programs and prove the return on investment. And that can be very challenging for loyalty practitioners. So I think it sounding like you have, you know, that role to make sure that your brands are getting that return on investment. So, so I would just love to know, you know, how, how, how do they experience it and given that it’s obviously part of, you know, being part of your Alliance. 2 (13m 21s): Yeah, not very fair question. And it’s slightly different from our perspective in that we’ve shifted, we used to have fixed fees and variable fees, and I will tell you what we’ve done now, because we’ve been able to see that it’s, it’s, it’s more effective this way. And it’s also easier to answer that question of is this working for performance? So if a loyalty member staying and let’s put it that way, if they’re staying, they’re paying us a fee, they’re not staying, we’re not, we get know if you run your own program, you do have to have the infrastructure. And then the maintenance and ongoing fixed fees. They’re spending potentially a couple of million dollars a year minimum. Now, if you’re just joining us, we already, we already are doing that. We’re doing that other 40 brands. So we are paying all the fixed fees ourselves. 2 (14m 1s): It’s just a matter of if we’re driving incremental stays to your property. I say incremental because there is the way we approach it. We don’t charge for enrollments day. It’s on repeat stays of which we’re driving that through our marketing channels. They’re looking direct, no other on top of that, that saves a lot of, a lot in fees. And then there’s different ways of seeing if it was the same hotel. So the customer is loyal to that customer experience. And I love that, that hotel or that brand as well. That’s a very, very, very tiny fee if it’s in the same brand. So it’s like a Penske enrolled hotel and they stay in a different Konwinski hotel, same brand. Again, there’s brand marketing that they’re doing that contributes to, again, it’s a very low fee that we would just be doing for the infrastructure of the privacy, all the different stuff we’re doing on our end part, that we really focused the most of our efforts on. 2 (14m 45s): And what are a lot of our brands and hotels expect the most of an attribute very much to us is what we call cross-brand. This is where you enroll at a company ski, and then you go stay at an Antara. Well, very likely a customer didn’t know to do that without our program. And our program really helped them do that through a different mechanism so that the value proposition, our marketing. And so by doing that, we have the higher fee for that. And so that’s, but it’s still very low compared to, you know, an OTA or any of the other channels out there. So that said, that’s kind of how we’re, how we’re set up. That’s our model. And, and very much brands are able to see, because it is just for performance. They can see what that return is. And our existing brands have all seen that very much. It’s very profitable for them. And, and that said, they’ve resigned their contracts. 2 (15m 28s): We have a brand new program as well. And I’m going to, I’m thinking that because in December we launched what we call 2.0 is the working name, but it’s just a new iteration for Gigi discovery program. And prior to that, our loyalty, our program was largely recognition. It was, you’re getting these hotel benefits throughout your stays, but at the higher tiers you got what were called local experiences. And this was saying, you know what? Our brands and our hotels are so different. They’re not points. We hate points. We still have the challenger brand. We’re not points, but that said, we had to offer something different because we’re not trying to be like for like, with these other programs, there’s other programs are, are very, you know, they’re doing what they’re doing well. And if you like that hotel, we could call them the cookie cutter hotels. 2 (16m 10s): They’re, they’re diversifying a bit as well, but like that pad exists. You’re gonna find that you’re gonna be happy. There. We’re the ones who offer you something different. We offer you something unique in terms of the hotel product. So our program had to be unique as well, so that they felt that that represented them best. And it would appeal to the type of customer who would be staying there. So that’s where we said, you don’t need to worry about points. We’re going to give you a way to experience your surroundings more. It’s an authentic experience, the hotel curated, and it varies by hotel. So you couldn’t really explain it, but once you experienced like, wow, this is amazing. It was really high value. Cause you couldn’t put a price to all these things, but that said, it just touched about, in reality, it was only 4% of our active stares were eligible and protecting them. So it was like, okay, well we have something really cool. 2 (16m 53s): And at one, you know, dozens of awards for innovation and whatnot, but it wasn’t really doing the behavior shift that we needed, but to a large enough extent. So that’s where we change the value proposition in terms of making sure that we were able to reward through our program, all of our members. So then we said, okay, as of day one, our members have to be earning something that points. We still don’t like points. They have to earn something that helps enhance their experience. And this whole pandemic thing is going on and everyone’s needs are changing slightly. So we just said, you know, people want to experience more at our hotel. Our hotels are amazing and they have all these different outlets. They have all these spots and golf and the restaurants are Michelin star restaurants. And so how do you make sure that’s part of loyalty program before it was only based on your stays and your rooms. 2 (17m 35s): And now we said, you know what, everything across the hotel is included. So you can earn and burn and it goes toward your tier status. You’re earning these rewards that in the systems, the mechanism it’s like points that they’re not points. It’s more like cash ACOM, discovery dollars. Now we’re saying you’re earning discovery dollars and guess what? You can use it to enhance your experience, however you choose. So this is if you truly want those local experiences that we used to have, you can, you can do that, but it’s all members are now able to purchase those. You don’t have to wait till these upper tiers, but you purchase them with either cash like actual normal payment tender, or with our reward currency discovery dollars. Or you can put it towards your just room if you just want it to, you know, to, or your actual room, but we market it more of like, do you want to put it toward an upgrade, go ahead and get that suite. 2 (18m 18s): Or if you’re going to dinner, go ahead and get that nice bottle of wine, go a step up because the loyalty programs, making sure that you’re getting rewarded for it, or you can even use your redemption on that. So, and all you do is just apply this at the time of checkout. So it’s unlike points where there’s no matrix, there’s no time and blackout date this very much. If you’re going to pay for something, there’s your reward currency for that that’s discovery dollars. So I’m saying all of that, because this now gave our brands and hotels a way to really compete before we competed in a very kind of, you know, hard to define way. And you’d have to explain what local experiences were, but of such a small subset of people that affected now at saying, Hey, I don’t want a points program, but discovery, the discovery offers an equivalent of that. 2 (18m 58s): That’s even easier for customers to understand easier for them to redeem more inclusive around the entire hotel and the entire network. And now they feel we’ve only had three and a half months of operation, but they feel it’s more competitive. So there’s also this whole hypothesis, which you’ve had all the business modeling and actuaries are constantly re forecasting for us, making sure the numbers align with what our expectations are, but everyone in addition to having a positive ROI historically, and now we’re seeing some really good numbers come in with the first part of operations with this new program. There’s a lot more belief in it. There’s a lot more, okay. We finally can compete. I don’t, they still don’t want points because points seem very commoditized. It seems there’s a negative connotation to it. 2 (19m 39s): And there’s a lot of pain points, unintended points. So it’s like, okay, we had to create something similar, but better. We still need the flexibility. Transparency. $1 equals one us dollar. So that’s pretty straightforward For, for local currency. And so that said, we tried to make it better and make it more competitive. And that’s also going to help in our RRMS start story that you still have if you want. And a lot of our operators, our general managers and the hotel teams that came from start loans, we started on Marriott or from a core, and you’re used to points. And these other programs you’re used to the flexibility that comes with that. And so now that we have a program that offers the same, it really does help us compete, but in a slightly again, in our own way. 1 (20m 23s): Yeah, I like the solution. You came up with Kristie because I think we all do struggle with this and, you know, points good or bad, you know, because there is a level of jadedness about them and yet they are a very well understood mechanic. And I don’t need to tell you that, you know, educating customers about a proposition is, is a huge requirement. Like, you know, back to your point about Google, it’s the fact that we don’t have to explain anything. So, so I think you’ve managed to find a really happy medium in that it has all of those characteristics without being labeled in a way that has the negative connotation. It’s, it’s actually very clever. 2 (21m 4s): Thank you. Yes. It opens up so many doors. It really does because when we didn’t have it for a decade, there was all these we kept hitting and we kept saying, but we’re still different. We’re different, but it’s, at some point you realize, okay, it only goes to the bar and it made us step back and really reevaluate. And it took customer research. We did these focus groups and all these different regions. And we had to hear from them kind of what they needed, which was generally they needed simplicity and transparency and value and equity, fairness, all these things. And we just thought about it. We’re like, you know, our current propositions, not really touching on these. And so how do we, you know, refocus and reshape and we did, but I mean, from a roadmap perspective, the other thing we need to do and what every other program has, has done in some extent is to expand beyond your own offering. 2 (21m 51s): So partnerships, right. Partnerships has so much opportunity and it’s, and when I say direct marketing is so cost-effective partnerships can be very cost-effective. Yeah. And so that’s where, again, if you have an ability to do currency exchange, that’s where you open the door and we’ve been doing tier matching for all this time. And it only goes so far in our previous, or it couldn’t have been exchanged because it was extremely, the value is very, very, and High value. You know, if something’s 500, the equivalent of 500 us dollars, it’s hard to exchange a large subset of people. So that’s where again, currency exchange really opens up a lot of doors for program growth ability to expand our offering to our members. 1 (22m 30s): Yeah. And, and I was reading as well that it is digital only, am I right? You haven’t, for example, issued plastic cards. Like, you know, I still have 2 (22m 40s): No cans. Now we wasted millions of dollars back in the day and 30% China or Russia, you never got your card. And Yeah, anything that anywhere I, for us, it wasn’t necessary. And we have our, our website and our app and at hotel level, they can look up anything on the, the front desk and then look up in the system. So everything is pretty much handled, Working best for ads. 1 (23m 3s): And I’m just curious, Kristi about the, the role of the pandemic, you know, would you say that that was instrumental in, you know, driving change, for example, I mean, this is a huge project to take something that’s, you know, known and loved and trusted, or be it with limitations, as you said, it was so exclusive at the high end. And I think transformation is something we’ve all been talking about for such a long time. And, you know, we’ve all had those roadmaps and still do, of course. And, but this particular innovation in terms of scaling to, I guess, a hundred percent of your members, do you think this was driven by, by changing consumer behavior through the pandemic? Or was it something you think would have happened anyway? 2 (23m 45s): Yeah, I mean, you know, very convenient for us. We started this project and we started an exploratory in February, 2019. This was a year prior to that we were starting it because we saw, I mean, it was kind of the trifecta of, you know, in our reporting we could see in the customer metrics that things were starting to, the numbers were starting to take we’re plateauing. It was still a positive story. But if you looked at it, you know, one example like, you know, the repeat stays the numbers going up and up. If you look at it that way, it looked very positive. If you looked at repeat stayers, the people who were doing it, that was the growth was either diminishing or it was going down. So that was a negative, they had kind of a new lens on the reporting and it has allowed us to see that, you know what, we’re not looking as good as we thought we looked or that as well as maturing, it was a decade old. 2 (24m 32s): And in our program growth that used to be, you know, 50% year over year growth and 35 and 25 and 20. And we can see that this was plateauing and our shareholders we want, and we’re also like a startup. We like to act like a startup. We want to see the big growth every year. So we had that. Yeah. And then additively, we saw everyone else kind of entering our space. Well, two ways, one, there was the consolidation. That’s where Envoy was going all in. And then a court was going all in with a list, but they were all just getting big. So the consolidation was making it more and more that we’re competing with these global programs on a, and they were so loud that their spend and OTAs are spending billions of dollars of spend. And so customers were seeing more and more those at the forefront. 2 (25m 12s): So we knew we still had to continue to innovate, to stand out, to be different in our own smaller way. And then the third one was truly that we had people entering experiences space. We said we were always unique because we had these local experiences. We had all those other programs, including the OTA online travel agents who were coming in offering experiences. Now they weren’t doing what we were doing. They were doing something though. And they were doing it much louder. So people just didn’t use them. And all of a sudden, everyone was in the fourth lane actually was that we had new shareholders coming in. He believed in what we were doing and the trajectory. And they gave us an influx of capital to go invest in the program larger than we usually would or op ex was relatively small. 2 (25m 54s): And this is all of a sudden, a great opportunity to do something big. So we all agree for shareholders approval to do an exploratory with customer research, just have an understanding of what people wanted back then we called it discovery 20, 25, because we’re saying, what do you want now? But what do you think you want in five years? So that’s it. We were trying to look for it. No one knows what they need in five years, but we were just saying, try really hard. And we were trying to understand it was cross industry. It was not about hospitality. We wanted to just understand, you know, the trends of are there the themes that were emerging across regions and see if there was a red thread across them. And we did that. We crafted the program, all that. Well, then we are meant to be signing. When we started, we did the business requirements. We did the project plan. 2 (26m 36s): We hired some team members. We had everything laid out. We were going to launch this program in a year and that was already extremely ambitious. And then all of a sudden in January of that year, 2020 was when it started hitting China. And we have a very big presence in China. We have some on hotels here, a million members there. So pretty that was starting to hit us. And then we watched it little by little by March. It affected everyone. So that’s where it was like, okay guys, go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing, but don’t sign any vendors. Don’t spend any money, but go ahead and launch a program. How are we going to do this? But then we all, we also kept, you know, in hindsight, you know, how long it took, but at the time we’re like, oh, well, this’ll pass in a month or two months. Let’s see what we can do. Let’s put it on hold for a little bit or use a day by day kind of pivot or shift and trying to understand what do we do, but everyone still believed in it. 2 (27m 23s): And so a lot of it was just keeping the momentum going and, and it became more and more relevant. What we were doing. A lot of our program, I was talking about the reward currency, but that also gives you flexibility. And so for our members, they want more and more flexible. That’s becoming more relevant to the other thing that was really cool. That was emerging, was a concept that we had deemed back in 2019, we crafted Live Local. And this is the holding of, you know, at our hotels. You’re welcome with, or without a stay. If you’re just a local member and you’re around our hotels, go in for a drink at the bar, you should be rewarded for that. You should be bringing him in to come into our restaurant to come into our business center, have indoor lounge, use the pool, use the gym, use the beach access. All of this art previously was limited to people who stayed at the hotel because that’s how the business works. 2 (28m 5s): And then it became a matter of, well, why don’t we open up to locals? And then during the pandemic, that’s a hundred percent what you had to do because no one was traveling. Then it became, Hey, please come take advantage of our hotels. And as a member, you’re getting these offers or free drinks for the first hour or whatever it is. And then our hotels really needed to rely on that. And then more and more, that was, that became much more relevant. And so that was interesting of how do we, you know, get more involved with that again, from a marketing angle, there are a ton of markets. We have 800 hotels seem to be, there’s about 500 locations to have marketing for. If you used to do something, sitting in Dubai, which is our headquarters, I know you’re there as well, but if you’re doing that from one location, you know, you can do things at scale and it might not be as relevant, but you got away with it a little bit. 2 (28m 48s): Well, now you can’t, if it’s local marketing, it’s really hard to market locally. If you don’t have someone sitting there doing it and making sure the content is extremely on it timely, it has to be done the same day. You can’t say I need this three weeks in advance or so we’re still trying to figure out that whole aspect, but I feel all of the proposition we designed became more and more relevant in recent years. And it’s still very much as needed. The hard part for us was we had this one final product we want to deliver and because of the pandemic and how to space things out and how things materialized, we’ve had to break it into phases. So then it became a roadmap and it became, what is critical for recovery now is our, our hotels need peoples coming in. We needed the discovery dollar currency. First. 2 (29m 28s): There’s a few other components coming that we haven’t been able to launch it because it just takes a lot of focus and investment. And we had to phase it out to make sure we could still deliver. The first part is in the timing that we did, it did take longer than we wanted again, because there’s so many factors. There was people not working. The hotels were closed. There was no one to train on the new program. You can’t launch a program. If no one’s there, you can’t launch it. No one’s trained on it. Like it was just things like that. So I feel like we all were in it together for the two years and keeping the momentum, going, keeping our vendors on board, even though we had no cash to pay them for a while, they were very, they worked with us. We were all in it together. And so I feel like we did design something great. 2 (30m 9s): We didn’t have to change it too much. We just had to space it out and really have to figure out the cashflow of what we were doing and kind of resource management all throughout. But that was really tricky. I don’t recommend having another pandemic because we’re launching program during it. That was tricky. So I’m glad that it’s behind us now. And now, I mean, well, hopefully behind us, a lot of it’s behind us. And so 1 (30m 29s): Yeah. 2 (30m 31s): We’ve been able to deliver them. 1 (30m 33s): Yeah, yeah, no, I made it really as extraordinary as I said, I haven’t worked in hotel loyalty and none of us have been through a pandemic. So it’s extraordinary to hear, you know, how things get impacted and I’m thrilled that you are getting to deliver the proposition of discovery dollars that you wanted. And even if it is spaced out and I was looking at your numbers there as well, Kristi just before we came on. So it says soon to be 20 million members driving over $2 billion in revenue and 85 industry awards for marketing and program innovations. That’s all amazing. 2 (31m 9s): Thank you so much. Yeah. We, I keep saying soon to be, we have NH hotel group is coming and they’re going live in June. So I’m soon to be. They’ll bring in three brands, bring in a large group of members. So you’ll see some numbers right now that are a little like, hang on. Why are these numbers not adding up? It’s generally today in operation. There’s one set of numbers by June, which is only two months away. We’re going to have percent, but we’ve been there. A huge, there are 360 hotels. It’s huge. They’re almost as big as we were. And so if we come to come in, that’s a lot, that’s been years in the making of planning out all of their systems, integration, all of their marketing integration. They have a very successful program called NH rewards. It wins the number one hotel program in many different categories as well. 2 (31m 50s): And we had to make sure that what we were doing was adding value to their program, to their members. We did not want to dilute it. They were not going to let us dilate it as well. And we want you to show that we were really thinking through everything and being methodical in our approach and maybe they’re coming on in a couple of months. And so they’re going to help make those numbers look a lot better, but it used to be $2 million top line, by the way, it’s still 2 billion because of the endemic. It hasn’t gone up much. We’re really starting to see a lot more pickup to 2019 numbers. But yeah, I used to be, at this point, we should have been at three or $4 billion, but that’s okay. We took a long pause there, but we’ll, we’ll get there. 1 (32m 22s): Yes. And tell me then when should we expect to hear news? I’m sure I won’t be the one doing the breaking news for you, but given your, your phase rollout, what kind of timeframes let’s say we’re looking for for the next phase of your evolution? 2 (32m 37s): Yeah, I think the biggest one that we’re working toward and we have different ways to get there. We’re trying to, essentially, we’re trying to roll out, truly earn and burn without a stay. So right now we have a lot of different, yes, a lot of different aspects to this Live Local thing. I mentioned to you where you can still today in this year, good are hotels and get, you know, discounts on your, on your dining. You can get spa treatments. There’s things called local offers where they package it a certain way right now, if you’re not getting at the hotel, you’re not earning that discovery dollar reward currency. You can still have the experiences and access to stuff and you get offers and promotions, but you’re not earning and burning a reward currency on those things because that’s 10,000 POS systems to try to integrate. 2 (33m 20s): We want to consume a lead on an app or phone, but again, you still need to have aspects of either training for 150,000 waiters that were hired yesterday or, or there’s different aspects. There’s a few ways to approach it. And we, we keep looking and talking to 70 startups. Hey, can you get us there? And no, one’s figured it out. All the other programs have things. And it’s only in the U S or it’s only in this one tiny market. We need something globally. And so we’ve been extremely curious and trying to find better alternatives, but it’s such an undertaking just because the scale. I mean, we had these hotels just getting their PMs, the front desk systems integrated for this first stage, which huge undertaking. And so to do this times, all of the outlets, they have all of these different systems and they’re truly on different systems, different. 2 (34m 2s): Every single one has its own. You know, something might be opera might be impor might be guests interests. There’s all these different ones. And they have different versions and blah, blah, blah, that said the complexity there is on steroids. And we’re aware of that. And that’s why no one else has really done this. We still wear that with a challenge or we’re happy to do it. We just have to make sure we’re aware of the resources needed for that. So bringing in NH hotels has been our focus this year. We want to make sure they’re up and running and that they’re successful and that we have a successful operation of them for the first few months over the summer. And then our efforts are very much coming, making sure we get this next stage. Right. And so hopefully early next year is when we’re going to be rolling out the ability to have our discovery rewards currency at our hotels without a stay. And then the world is our oyster after that expanding onto partnerships and everything else. 2 (34m 45s): And so, so yeah, a lot. And everyone’s excited for that. We wanted that as part of our original goal. And it’s just gonna take some time. 1 (34m 54s): I totally get it. Christie. And I have put a note in my diary to follow up and reschedule with you. So I’ll be holding you accountable if nothing else, which I know you’ll be doing yourself anyway, but it is a wonderful story. As I said, I’m delighted to have discovered the sheer scale of what you’re doing globally. It’s, it’s truly an inspiring story. And I think I’ve asked all of my questions from my side Christie, were there any other kind of key points you wanted to mention for our listeners around the world before we wrap up? 2 (35m 24s): I mean, not key points. I was just think one thing in the discussion we had a couple of weeks ago, there was something that was in drip. I think about loyalty. I think a fun stat there at one point you guys were saying, Hey, what’s your favorite loyalty statistic? And yeah, something I find, I love things that are surprising, right? And so with loyalty, you know, what’s interesting, especially in hospitality, we give something called member rates. And that started back in the day with where it was a channel shift. We want people to book direct. If you’re booking out online travel agent tell, might be spending 20% commission on that. And the guest has no idea and that’s the bad experience with the hotel. But that said like there’s, everyone wants people to book direct and our program helps them do that because then they get the recognition. A little department what’s interesting is you’re giving members in hospitality, a member rate is usually 10% offer and our hook and our channels, you get 10% off the best available rate. 2 (36m 13s): And so your first hunch would be okay, well you’re cannibalizing a rate. They were going to put the higher rate and now they’re getting 10% off. So you’re actually reducing your revenue by that much. And the reality is, which is fascinating, our loyalty members who book member rates, which are 10% off, still spend 10 to 15% more than members or non-members who don’t book member. And it’s just like, okay, well that is the fascinating thing about loyalty is that we did to change their behavior. They’re booking direct number one, and number two, their book, their room categories, or they’re booking a member rate instead of this kind of non-cancelable prepaid rate, which was even more discounted, or you still are doing something it’s counterintuitive. You’re like, well, you’re just diminishing the rate. It’s like, actually we got a much higher rate. You got a 20% Delta here and it’s a loyalty member who did this. 2 (36m 57s): And so it just reminds me of like, you know, loyalty members spend more, not just customer lifetime value, which is what the other people are focusing on. But even in the short term, and even the simple interaction like transactions that’s happening. And so I think that’s pretty fascinating people, you know, again, if you don’t know enough about loyalty, if you don’t have enough metrics or experience to see, to look at it, that is pretty interesting. And we’re seeing that across our, we have 35 brands currently 37 actually, but that’s it. If you look at that, it is consistent. We’re seeing that we try to do case studies by market and it’s consistent. These members are booking a lower rate to give them advanced, you know, access to flash sales and all that. And they still are spending more on that transaction and then over on repeat. 2 (37m 38s): So that’s wonderful. Interesting, but the more fun stuff, I mean, that’s just kind of behavior and spend, but I mean, as a marketer, the engagement metrics are really fun too, because if they’re loyalty, you have a lot more ability to, to capture them. You get the consents early on, you had a lot more excuses to talk to them. So you can tell them about an account summary. And then you throw in some promotional, as long as the ratios is there. And, and the, the, again with the cookies, like if you’re going from marketing lens, the cookie list, future it’s first party data. And so you not only are collecting it, therefore you can eat, you can also store it in a way that can be used for reporting. You can use it for a personalization of content. You can use it for all these different things. It’s a loyalty just makes everything so much easier. So again, obviously I’m a fan and that’s what our business is. 2 (38m 20s): But yeah, I feel like when you say some people you don’t have about hospitality, but a lot of people maybe don’t know that much about all the different kind of legs of loyalty, but there’s a lot there. 1 (38m 29s): Yeah. Yeah. It’s wonderful. Christy. I love talking to people like you, who clearly love what you do and, and ask the right questions because to go back to my earlier point, a lot of the time we’re defending spend, or we’re really having to convince people that it’s a worthwhile investment. So with those kinds of deltas that you talk about, there’s actually credibility there. You know, it is a business, this is not something we’re doing, you know, just to be fluffy or even to keep up with the competitors there’s genuine, compelling, increased spend and how we attributed and measure it. And all of those things I know they’re complex, but they have to be talked about. And we have to admit that we mightn’t have a hundred percent clarity on how to achieve that. 1 (39m 12s): And if you don’t invest in taking care of your customers this way, you’ll definitely never get it. So, so it’s a great story. As I said, I’m definitely putting a note in the diary now, so we can make sure to have you back on the show next year. So with that, I just want to say Kristi Gole vice-president and Head of Product at Global Hotel Alliance. Thank you so much. Let’s talk loyalty. This show is sponsored by the loyalty people, a global strategic consultancy with a laser focus on loyalty, CRM and customer engagement. The loyalty people work with clients in lots of different ways, whether it’s the strategic design of your loyalty program or a full service, including loyalty project execution. 1 (40m 1s): And they can also advise you on choosing the right technology and service partners on their website. The loyalty people also runs a free global community for loyalty practitioners, and they also publish their own loyalty expert insights. So for more information and to subscribe, check out the loyalty people.global, Thank you so much for listening to this episode of let’s talk loyalty. If you’d like us to send you the latest shows each week, simply sign up for the let’s talk loyalty newsletter on let soak loyalty.com. 1 (40m 45s): We’ll send our best episodes straight to your inbox. And don’t forget that you can follow let’s talk loyalty on any of your favorite podcast platforms. And of course we’d love for you to share your feedback and reviews. Thanks again for supporting the show.