#251: Digital Transformation with RSVP Rewards from the Sandman Hotel Group

One of Canada’s best kept secrets, Northland Properties is a family business that operates an impressive portfolio of businesses including restaurants, resorts, sports teams and hotels!

In 2021, the Sandman Hotels within the Group completed a dramatic digital transformation of their loyalty program, and in this episode, I’m joined by Fiona McFaul, the Vice President of Marketing and Loyalty for the Sandman Group who shares their journey one year on from launching their RSVP Rewards program.

Show Notes:

1) Fiona McFaulVice President of Marketing and Loyalty for the Sandman Group

2) Sandman Hotels

3) Sandman RSVP Rewards program

Audio Transcript

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.


This episode is sponsored by Epsilon. Today, I’m delighted to announce a unique opportunity for one lucky listener of Let’s Talk Loyalty to enjoy a complimentary workshop with the loyalty experts at Epsilon. One brand every month will have the chance for a unique, independent loyalty lab. A review of your loyalty program where Epsilon will share their expert ideas, how to drive your program’s performance to a whole new level. This workshop is a powerful way for you to measure and then increase the return on your investment in your loyalty program. So to apply head over to letstalkloyalty.com/epsilon and enter your details.


Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty. When we’re back in the hospitality industry to hear all about the dramatic digital transformation of the loyalty program for the Sandman Group of Hotels based in Canada. Sandman and Sutton Place Hotels are just two of the brands within a family-owned conglomerate, which is perhaps one of Canada’s best-kept secrets. Northland properties includes an impressive portfolio of businesses, including restaurants, resorts, sports teams, and hotel. And together they employ over 10,000 Canadians. 


I’m joined today to chat through the launch of the digital loyalty program in 2021 by Fiona McFaul the Vice President of Marketing and Loyalty for the Sandman Group who shares their journey one year on from creating their new RSVP rewards program.


So, Fiona, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. 


Hi Paula. Thank you for having me. 


I’m super excited to have you, Fiona. I couldn’t believe how many things we had in common when we connected on LinkedIn. So I’m sure people will hear the Irish accent on both sides of the call today. Yes. And we also have a university in common.


Uh, we have some former clients I think, in Ireland, in common as well. Yep. So, um, yes. And a love of loyalty Fiona as well. It’s incredible. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. Great. Great. So listen, I’m dying to hear all about the work you’re doing there in Canada. It says a really wonderful story to, to share with the audience.


So before we get into talking all about your loyalty program, please do tell me, what is your current favorite loyalty program? Fiona. I didn’t have to think about this question for a long time because, um, it has to be Sephora’s beauty insider program. Um, I’ve been a member for, for a, a good few years at this stage.


And, you know, on a, on a personal note, I just, I look forward to getting their emails. I get excited to open them, which I think is just a, a benchmark for any loyalty marketer to want your members to really be excited by your offering. Um, but then on the, you know, how their program is structured, there’s obviously the, the transactional, the financial.


Section of their program, but the best bit is the emotional it’s. They, they really try and, you know, drive experiential loyalty. They, they offer experiences in store, early access, and they kind of could experience at, at the heart or the core of their rewards program. So, um, it feels much more than transactional for me.


Um, I’m sure my husband doesn’t love the credit card bills at the end of the month, but, um, it, for me is just a very engaging, um, loyalty program and it. Super easy to earn points. There’s loads of little additional perks. Um, so I think they set a really good standard for, um, for retail loyalty, for sure.


Yeah. Yeah. I definitely agree. Fiona. And you know, when I think about Sephora and what they’ve achieved with that program in particular, I suppose, because of how competitive that sector is. When you think of the multibillion dollars that go into all of the individual brands that, uh, so many of them just haven’t quite cracked that level of engagement, the way that Sephora has.


So I agree with you. It’s, it’s, it’s exceptional. And to have something like that, that we can look forward to. And to be honest, I mean, I’m sure we could be buying much more expensive hand. So mm-hmm  I think your husband actually should be,  quite relieved. That’s fair. That it’s  fair. It’s actually just makeup.


So, um, there we go. But I know you’ve been paying a lot of attention to loyalty now, just in the last few years, actually, you you’re quite new into the industry, really? So I am, I am. Um, yeah, so I am my in my, my previous career was, um, in advertising. So I worked, uh, for advertising agencies in Dublin, in Ireland and moved to Vancouver, um, and continued working in, in ad agencies.


And then as I progressed, I’d been in him for 15 years and I just really wanted another challenge and wanted to kind of learn something new. So, um, I made the jump client side over to, um, work for Northland properties and specifically the hotels division of Northland. So, um, Northland is a really well, we just we’re like our own best kept secret.


We, we are  Canada’s fastest growing hospitality company. Um, we have 60 hotels. We, we are opening in the us. We have a few in the UK we’ve won in Ireland. Um, but on top of the hotels, we, we also have, um, a lot of restaurants, like over 150 restaurants. Wow. So we have chop steakhouse, all the Dennys in Canada, the Moxies brand.


Um, we have shark club. We’ve a couple of ski resorts to throw in there as well. We’ve got gross mountain and rebel stoke mountain resort in BC mm-hmm  and we’ve a couple of sports teams as well. So. It is an amazing, um, kept secret of this fantastic hospitality company that came from, um, you know, a family story and, and, and Bob Gallardi, um, our founder is still involved and you know, his son, Tom is, is our CEO at Northland properties.


Um, but it’s, it’s a great hospitality company. And, and I think we haven’t done a good job yet about putting ourselves out there and driving awareness. Yeah. Um, so I came on board into the hotels division as director of marketing and brand, um, And then the opportunity came up to revitalize our loyalty program on the hotel side.


So we had, um, a several, uh, kind of disconnected programs. We had a, a stamp card program, which was our main one. Um, and it was great, you know, it was, I think our guests really liked it. It was super simple for our operations teams to, to run. It was, you know, you got your 12 stamps and then you got a free night.


It was called lucky 13 mm-hmm . Um, Very easy to operate. However, not easy to, um, communicate with our customers cuz we didn’t have their email addresses. We didn’t really know a lot about them in terms of their data, where they lived, where they traveled, how they liked to travel so difficult to kind of personalize that experience.


Mm-hmm  um, and obviously there was a, a kind of increas. Uh, risk of the bit of liability and, and, and fraud potentially because it wasn’t digital. It was, it was a, a physical piece. Yeah. Um, so we, we, we digitized the entire program. We moved it to, you know, a, um, a points based, uh, currency program called R SDP rewards.


Um, and the reason that it is, um, it’s not called like a hotel, uh, related name is because we want this to eventually evolve and develop into a Northland properties, wide loyalty program. Mm-hmm , which for me is where the super exciting part of this, um, endeavor is. Yeah. Is the opportunity and potential because.


Getting back to Sephora’s delivering on experiences rather than just the transactional piece of loyalty. Yeah. We can offer loyalty across multiple, multiple brands and you could, you know, have, say dinner at, at chop steakhouse and stay at Sutton place Vancouver. And then. And head up to gross mountain resort and do a day of skiing there.


And that could all be under, it will all be under one loyalty umbrella eventually. So it’s, it’s just super exciting. And you know, it’s definitely been a, um, a learning curve and a bit of a baptism of fire because we did all of this in the middle of the pandemic. Yeah. Um, And I was like, bring me back to advertising.


No, not really.  uh, but it was, it was a, a, a great opportunity to, you know, focus on developing that program. And, um, even though people really weren’t traveling as much, obviously during COVID, we did have a very high migration rate. We were able to bring a lot of people from our previous loyalty programs.


into our SVP rewards. Um, and now we’re a year in and, you know, really healthy membership and, and obviously travel is, is back with, with a vengeance. Yeah. So we’re seeing our numbers top up nicely every month. And you know, now it’s just about like, how do we keep our members happy and how do we give them what, what they want that will engage them.


You know, and isn’t that a wonderful place to be Fiona like, you know, congratulations first and foremost, because, you know, talk about a baptism of fire, you know, it’s, it’s a huge responsibility to take on a branding role client side for the first time having always been agency side because. I know when I talk to agency people, I think there’s always this sense of frustration.


Why is the brand not doing that? And the client should be doing this and it’s so obvious what needs to be done. And then of course, once you land client side, you go, oh,  yeah, there’s a lot more to it. You know, it really is. And it’s, it is, it’s a completely different view on it. And I think you, you hit the nail on the head there agency site.


I had fantastic years there made some amazing friends, great colleagues. Um, but I, I always felt like I was one step removed from the brand and could only affect change to a certain point. So coming into the Sandman and sudden place brands, there’s so much opportunity there to on the brand side, even before we got into loyalty.


Yeah. Um, to just really develop those brands and, you know, give them brand identities and make them a lot more meaningful because. Sandman is, you know, it’s an old, it’s an older brand we’ve been around for over 50 years in the Canadian marketplace. And, and with that comes some challenges, which we need to, you know, develop a, a, a stronger brand identity to kind of flow across all of our properties.


And, um, yeah, so that was, that was one great challenge that we’re still kind of tackling. And then, yeah, loyalty’s like the, the icing on the cake. . Totally well, as if you weren’t busy enough, you know, but I guess it was busy in a different way. I mean, I know obviously going through COVID the entire industry for hospitality was decimated in terms of the resources that you had to, you know, to, to your, um, to, to support you, I guess, in the whole development.


So I think what impresses me most is the fact that you managed to develop an entire strategy, uh, for. For SVP rewards program, um, without prior experience in loyalty or without necessarily people internally, um, who’d built a digital loyalty program before, so, so where did you take all your inspiration from?


Well, I ha credit where credit’s due. I have an amazing boss. Okay. Who will, who will listen to this? So he’ll, he’ll like this, but, um, no Manos, Jas. He’s the, um, the, uh, C he’s the CMO and CDO at Northland properties. So, um, chief marketing officer and chief digit officer yeah. Has a fantastic background at companies like west jet and Shaw communications.


So he was, you know, this is not his first rodeo. It’s definitely mine. Um, but he has been very instrumental in driving digital transformation across Northland. So not just in the, in the, the hotels division. Yeah. Um, and you know, for all of our brands, we’re undergoing serious change, like more change. And I think we’ve, we’ve seen in, in the company’s history in terms of, you know, new systems, new processes, digitizing a lot of things that needed to be brought into, you know, this century.


Um, so Minhas been super, um, involved in, in spearheading many of these initiatives and I’ve just learned. So so much from him. So, and we have a great team, you know, there, we did manage to, you know, hang on to a lot of our core team that we, we really believed in for the success of our company. And thankfully we have a, in a great, um, director digital product.


We’ve a, an amazing senior manager of guest loyalty, um, uh, guest relations and loyalty. So credit were credits due. It wasn’t a one woman band. There was definitely a team of us involved, a team of headless chickens during COVID, but it was a team. Totally. But what I do hear coming through Fiona is that vibe of, and I’ve heard it before in family owned companies, actually, there is a sense of actually feeling like you are seen.


You’re heard, you’re almost trusted in a way that sometimes the corporate world doesn’t, you know, actually have that same feeling. So to have that kind of leadership, I think makes a big difference in what you can do. Absolutely. And, you know, that’s the great thing about, um, the structure, I think of Northland properties, um, and, and how we differ.


I would say from, from other even probably other hospitality companies who would be globally owned and you, you feel again, very removed from being able to kind of affect any change. Um, I have, as I said, no, she’s. He’s an amazing leader. Um, the president of our hotels division, Robert Pratt is, um, fantastic and so much experience, but I have direct access to my president.


And, you know, even with Tom, we have a biweekly meeting with Tom to talk hotel strategy and just having like that’s a massive benefit of our company is that it is it’s reasonably flat for such a ginormous company. Yeah. Um, you can, you can get things done. Pretty quickly and you can get in front of the right people.


And I also feel like I’m heard, you know, I do feel like people listen to me and say, oh, she, she does know what she’s talking about.  so totally, it’s been, it’s been really, it’s been great. And, and that is something I think that we offer, um, our team members as well is, is access to leaders to learn from and to kind of be inspired by and get, um, mentorship from.


Yeah. Yeah. And, and it’s amazing to me actually, that you know, that there was such a, you know, an effective yet basic program for so many years there with your, just to go back to your, to your stamp card a bit, you know, I, I think I said to you, last time we spoke that, you know, I’ve. Seen those extensively.


I had a coffee shop around the corner in Dublin that had a wonderful stamp card program, but always if I smiled extra widely, I got extra two or three stumps  yeah. So, so that whole fraud risk, and I’ve written about it a little bit as well. So, you know, with the best will in the world, you know, please God, we always think it wouldn’t happen in our.


But it was definitely a risk. Um, I can see how it worked, being super, super simple. Um, but the transformation now, and I’m thinking particularly of your frontline staff, you know, and the whole journey that they had to go on with you, I guess, to get from, you know, physical to yes. Digital. So how did that all.


So, yeah, I mean, it, it is so different and, and, and on the construct of our program is, is very simple. Um, we have four tiers. You start at red, you move up through gold to platinum and then eventually to, to diamond, obviously just depending on your dollar spend per year is, is what moves you up. Nice. But you’re right.


I mean, you know, as you kind of go up from red to gold, there’s an additional, um, perk being a room upgrade. And as you move up into platinum and diamond, you get, um, early check-in. Late checkout, um, breakfast box or a breakfast gift card, um, bonus points, you know, and, and, and for the loyalty team, or sorry for the, um, operations team on the ground, it’s definitely been a learning curve.


What we’ve done is we’ve, we’ve really tried to do as many training sessions as we can for them. We always say there’s no such thing as a silly question when it comes to this, because they’re not expected to know it. And you know, it’s easy from, from our support center, which is what we call our head office to just send out a memo and like everyone reads it and we’re like, great, it’s launched, but there’s so much more to launching something like this because yeah, we have to make sure that.


You know, our, our loyalty, um, our guest management solution tool integrates with our property management system so that, you know, once someone checks in that, it goes, Hey, you know, Paula is here, she’s a platinum, or she’s a diamond member. Make sure you give her all of her perks. So like, even that we didn’t have that when we launched this program.


So there was a little bit of a, yeah, so there’s a little bit of manual kind of workarounds that we had to implement. Um, but I think, you know, and we’ve, we’ve now we’re on like 15 month 15 I think. And we are seeing our sales team. Are absolute champions of this program and they are really supporting our front desk teams and our, um, GSAs in helping them, you know, say, okay, you’ve got 10 diamonds coming in today.


You’ve got four gold and you’ve got six platinums. Make sure we deliver on all of these perks. Um, Yeah. Yeah. So it’s, it’s been, um, it’s been definitely, um, um, a learning curve, I would say for the operations teams as well. And, you know, we, we do everything we can to support them, but I think we’ll, we’ll just have to get better at that because if we’re not delivering on the perks, there’s just no point, you know, we, we need buy in and, you know, and investment in this program from all areas of the business, from, from our finance team to our ops team, to sales, to marketing to it, it’s it really.


Already a Northland wide, um, initiative, whether they want it to be or not  well, I actually think you nailed it when we spoke last time, Fiona, because you used the words, it takes a village and I thought she totally got it. That’s exactly what it takes. And I, and I said to you as well, like one of the reasons that I love doing this show is because I always felt like super lone.


Super confused, you know, super frustrated that I did need to bring every single department in the business along a very complex journey. Yeah. When I didn’t even have the answers. So again, fair play between yourself. And Manaj obviously has the, uh, the leadership and the, the expertise again from brands like WEP, that that’s wonderful, but I think you’re right to focus as well on the employees buy in and that kind of, you know, building the belief.


Because I’ve, I’ve often said on this show, like, I almost feel like I’m probably the worst customer in the world, particularly, let’s say in retail. And I’m gonna say maybe, you know, sometimes here in Dubai, for example, they mightn’t be as well trained in some of the stores as they, as they could be. And I’m, you know, always, probably comparing back to, you know, boots, for example, in Ireland or the UK.


Yeah. And when you speak to somebody there and they ask. You’re a member of the advantage program. They’re genuinely like upset if you’re not like they , they’re like, why not? Like they’re confused. Why. Yeah. And they’re right, because again, it’s just, it’s such a robust program and you know, it, it, it really, it, it drives so much more engagement when you have your.


Property, um, you know, you’re on property, people being your brand ambassadors and getting excited and saying, if you join our rewards program today, you could get X, Y, and Z. We can. So it’s, it’s having them champion it as much as we are from the marketing department, um, is, is how we’re gonna see success in this and, and them seeing the benefits of it as well.


You know, we encourage, you know, on our training sessions, I was like, hands up guys, if you’re not an RSVP rewards member yet. Oops. You know, there was. A couple who probably didn’t put their hand up, but, um, yeah, we, we really encourage everyone to live our brands because how are you supposed to sell anything if you don’t understand it yourself?


So whether that’s, you know, getting our hotel teams to go and eat at Moxies or, you know, um, stay at suton place or visit grace, we, we have this, um, like. I mean, we have a kind of our own loyalty program internally, I guess it’s our, our Northland perks. And that gives amazing discounts at our hotels and our restaurants and our resorts and for our sports teams for tickets.


So, yeah, you know, even just having all of our employee base really understand the, the multitude of brands, which, which, you know, um, north and properties consist of, I think that helps them to drive, um, understanding with the, with the, uh, the guests as well. For sure, because I mean, one thing definitely you are competing with, you know, a very, very well established industry.


You know, every hotel brand worth its salt of course has a loyalty program, which in fairness, you know, they’ve all had significant invest. For many, many years. So, you know, in order for you guys as salmon to, to leapfrog ahead position yourselves as the best of the best, I do think that level of, as you said, the championing at the front, uh, desk is absolutely, uh, critical.


And then I think as you start to build the breadth of the proposition across all of the brands, I think that’s just going to be an extraordinary journey to, to take the whole program through all of that. Yeah. And that’s, you know, there it’s, it’s gonna be a challenge, but that’s what I said. Why would I come here?


Cuz I wanted a challenge? Well, I got one  um, but it it’s exciting because obviously the more, um, brands that we incorporate into the program, we really have to look at the benefits and the earn and burn construct for every single, you know, partner that we onboard, whether that’s, um, internal or external.


So. It’s it just has, you know, it’s, it’s a life of its own really. And, and that’s, um, yeah, it’s just a very exciting time I think, to be, to be developing it. Um, and we’ve also had some, you know, some great partnerships work to, to our advantage as well. So we’re, um, we just launched in June a partnership with visa Canada, so absolutely fantastic people to work with.


We were working on it for a long time. Sure. What we’re doing is, um, we are elevating their, um, Visa, infinite and visa, infinite privilege cardholders mm-hmm  they automatically get elevated status. So visa infinite comes across to platinum straightaway and visa, infinite privilege gets diamond. And I mean, it’s, they have been amazing partners to work with.


They’ve really been supportive from a marketing standpoint as well, and, you know, appealing to that slightly more affluent guest and getting them into our top two tiers. Like that’s, it’s, it’s great for us. So it’s super to be working with partners like, like visa, Canada.  um, and some other ones, which I won’t mention yet, cuz they’re not sciencey delivered.


Um, but you know, getting, getting awareness of the program out there is just so key. Um, because it’s not cold Sandman rewards or sudden place rewards. We need to do a great job of driving awareness that this is hotel wide and spans all of our hotels in, in, you know, the, the, all the countries that we operate in.


Yeah. Yeah, well, you’re right to, to pick partners and again, partners that feel like partners, because I think at the end of the day, you, you probably, you know, it’s very rare to find something as supportive as you’ve just described in terms of visa, because I always say, you know, marketing is just too expensive and you would know this from your agency background, Fiona, like, you know, if you have to advertise and.


People about a concept or an idea or a key message or a brand. And if you’re constantly having to spend money to do that, I think fundamentally it’s just really difficult to justify that budget. But then when you do have partners and again, you know, some of the, the, the clients we might have worked on or overlapped on in Ireland have massive scale to offer.


So for you guys, you know, particularly with, you know, as you said, quite a generic and intentionally generic brand, that’s gonna scale across all of your businesses for visa to be supporting or as VP rewards. And of course, the benefits for, for visa to be associated with, you know, two premium hotel brands as well is amazing.


Yeah, it’s a win-win for both sides and hopefully it’s a win-win for their card holders as well. But yeah, so we’re, we’re super excited for that and, and, you know, we’ve seen some, some great numbers from that partnership already, so, um, it’s, it’s fantastic. Yeah. And that’s what, five weeks old at this point only.


Yeah. About that. Wow. No pressure. Huh? No. Nah, we don’t take our time around here. We, we, we jump in head first.  that’s amazing. And then I just wanted to maybe get a sense of, I suppose, the, uh, the overall KPIs without getting into thing, obviously sensitive Fiona, but you know, there’s always, I suppose, a, a vision.


That a business has when they do decide, okay, we’re going to take this seriously. We’re going to transform. We’re going to digitize. We’re gonna execute at the highest possible level. So, so what would you say are the key kind of business drivers that said that the business is excited about in terms of launching or S VP rewards?


Yeah. So, I mean, obviously member growth is huge for us, but, you know, but, but there’s not a lot of point in having, you know, millions and millions of members if we are not engaging with, with those members. So I think member journey engagement is a super important, um, KPI for us. Mm-hmm  um, Member experience and making sure that our top tier members are really getting those benefits and, and, you know, checking in and seeing what more we could do to kind of enhance the program.


Mm-hmm , um, brand awareness for me is very important because, you know, as I said earlier, we, we have two brands who. Might not be as well known as they could be. And now we have a rewards program that encompasses both of those brands. So we have a job to do, I think, on all of our brands to drive awareness and, and consideration in particular mm-hmm  um, so brand awareness for the rewards program.


Mm-hmm , um, obviously the, the program budget and profitability are, are under me as well. So we wanna make sure that we’re being. Just really clever and mindful with our budgets and, and working with partners to sort of amplify a message. Um, you know, uh, I think will be a, a key pillar for us as we move forward.


Mm-hmm  um, and then one, we would always come back to would be, you know, our retention rate, um, how, how, you know, retention rate, we would look at our MPS as well. And, and, and further down the line, we can kind of look more at those metrics. Yeah. Um, but the program is, as I said, like 15 months old at this stage, so I think we’re, we kind of had a year to.


Let’s see how we go for the first year. And now we can really start to say, you know, we’re, we’re building up the loyalty team. We’ve just hired a great coordinator. You know, we have some strateg assistance from, from consultants as well. So we’re kind of figuring out like the, the, what, the, what the program needs to be, to be, um, successful.


Yeah. Um, and to keep delivering those great benefits and perks, um, and rewards to our members, um, that we know that they, they come back. They, they definitely do Fiona. And I’m very glad to hear that you’re, you know, having access to some consultants because especially when you mentioned the P and L for example, uh, I always used to be terrified when, you know, people would actually ask, you know, to build or defend or prove, uh, the profitability of the program because the P and L for loyalty, I think is, is absolutely.


Different. But again, I think external thinking whether it’s in the form of a conference or a consultant, I think there’s actually just extraordinary value to just build your roadmap because how are you supposed to know what’s possible? And again, it’s one of the reasons I do this show to kind of go, ah, there’s a great idea in this sector that could be implemented.


So, and, and there is great loyalty expertise in the Canadian market and very savvy consumers as well. I would say. You know, it’s interesting that you, you mentioned the P and L because obviously there is a cost to loyalty, but it’s, it’s, it’s more the value that we want to show of the loyalty program, because what we don’t want is for this to be seen as a massive cost with absolutely no benefit, you know, that would be completely useless.


So for us to be developing this financial forecasting model, super robust can show the value of the program and, and what, you know, additional revenue. Bringing in from, for potentially the next five years, that is what will make a difference. Not, you know, the branding and everything else is, is kind of less important to those people internally is important to me.


Yeah. But showing how we can deliver value, how we can drive incremental revenue, how we can retain our, our guests. And if, you know, if they just stay one more night with us, You know, even driving by that, which seems like such a small amount, but getting into their consideration, set, realizing they’re a member of our loyalty program.


And coming back to us one more time in a 12 month cycle is huge. So it, it really is just showing the benefits and the additional, um, revenue that can be driven through loyalty, which is, is how we’ve kind of positioned this model. So, um, yeah, it’s, it’s great. We have, as I said, some, uh, we work with a, a company called loyalty and co um, they’re all, uh, three, three people out of Toronto.


Super experienced in so many programs and, and great farm as well, which is always like, cool. Oh, nice. Yeah. Yeah, no. And, and as you were saying that, I was just thinking, because what, what happens over time? In my experience, and again, you’re a year in, I always feel the first thing is actually that it’s only when the program launches that the hard work starts.


So, you know, I, I can imagine, you know, two years ago you were like, oh my God, can’t wait to get this launched. And actually, I’m sure you’ve also realized that. Literally it’s it’s then that things kick off. But, but also what I’ve seen in my experience, Fiona, is it tends to go through cycles and I’m going to say, this is probably less likely to happen for you guys because again, of the, the family ownership and the, the very long term commitment to loyalty in the business in various forms, but I’m thinking of everyone listening to our conversation today.


You know, there is often that kind of sense of it goes through almost cycles mm-hmm . So maybe, you know, when it’s three years old, you know, there’s some other new shiny, uh, marketing campaign or technique or something that seemed to be, um, more compelling and there is increased focus on the cost. In the investment and there’s always this challenge, Fiona of attribution.


So, you know, correlation and causation are two very different things. So I always had this debate internally again in the telecoms loyalty space to say, it’s one thing to say that somebody’s a member of your loyalty program and stays more frequently, but it’s another thing to say that somebody’s a member of your loyalty program.


Because of that, they stay more frequently. So yes. To link those two together. Yeah, absolutely. And, and driving that link is so is just so important for us because we want people to choose Sam because we have a great loyalty program as well as we have amazingly comfortable beds and we have friendly staff and we have amazing onsite restaurants.


I want them to remember that, oh, I, I stay there because I get treated a little differently because I always get my upgrade. I always get my breakfast box. I. Early in, you know, late out. And it’s all of those things that kind of ladder up to create a brand experience and not just a transaction. And that’s what we like.


Again, have to keep reme people don’t buy hotel rooms, you don’t buy a hotel room or you buy an experience. You’re, you’re traveling to Vancouver, maybe for a conference or to see friends or for a concert or, you know, some other event. So we. You know, I think our role as a hotel brand is to, you know, allow people to have these great travel experiences.


And if we can kind of add to that through our loyalty program and make their stay as amazing as possible. So they come back to us, that’s a win for me. Yeah, for sure, for sure. And just a thought struck me because again, I suppose it differs over time and it’s just a practical question, Fiona, around, I suppose, physical in terms of maybe like a membership card versus digital only, what did you decide to do on that?


Uh, when you launched. So, um, when we launched, we did make the decision to not have physical membership cards. Okay. Um, so it’s all apple wallet, um, based at we we’re, uh, I think we’re rolling over like this month. Um, so it’ll be super easy for the member. You know, they can also access the website through their mobile and sort of have their membership on display, but because they’ll have made the booking through our, um, our reservations engine online, it’s all kind of linked.


So as soon as you show up, We know who you are. We know that you’re, you know, Paula and you’re coming in and you’re a platinum or diamond member. So yeah, the hard work is kind of done and, and that’s what we really wanna drive because, you know, I know when I go and stay at hotels and I walk in and, um, there’s a difference if Sonny says, is it your first time staying with us?


And as soon as somebody says that I’m like, Mmm. You don’t know that it’s my first time here or when I walk into hotel and they say, it’s really nice to see you again, miss McFall. Now I’ve probably never seen that person before in my life. However, his computer or her computer did say that this person’s been here before.


So act like, you know, they’re, um, loyalty guests, but even that tiny little shift in, you know, a welcome approach.  it makes a difference to the guests and it makes them feel like they’re not a transaction and they’re not just, you know, arriving and checking out. It’s like, welcome back. We’re delighted to see you again.


I see you have an upcoming reservation in Clonan a few weeks. Enjoy your trip. That is so amazingly valuable. And, you know, with the stamp program, it was very hard to, um, to drive that kind of engagement at the front desk, as, as much as we can with, with the digital program now. Yeah. So, yeah, it’s, it’s all digital, it’s all linked.


Um, not to say there haven’t been wrinkles and kinks along the way, but, um, it is, it’s definitely setting us up for, uh, success in the future to have everything, uh, fully integrated like we do now. Yeah. Yeah. And I do think it’s the right call and I think a lot of programs do struggle with it. Um, and I suppose it’s decreasing over time, but you know, the, the physical card sometimes, you know, has a role to play.


But it does come at a massive cost. So, you know, I’ve been a fan of digital only for a very long time, which is not surprising at best coming from telco loyalty. Mm-hmm  it was the obvious, you know, to be mobile led. So, uh, so it sounds like the right call for you guys. Um, the other piece, I just wondered if you’ve, if you’ve managed to get into is yet, it might be still too early Fiona, but the whole, uh, concept of breakage, um, is one that the industry, you know, debates and discusses, and it’s often, maybe over time that you know, that there is an expectation that a certain amount of.


Maybe the rewards that have been earned would not be burned. Um, and sometimes that’s been seen in the past, I think, particularly as a good thing. So what’s the, the view internally, how how’s that being managed? Yeah. And it’s, it’s, it’s a tricky one because of the state of the world for the last couple of years.


So we, we did, um, you know, when we migrated our previous loyalty members over, we made sure that they were kind of made whole, you know, if they had stamps or if they had, um, if they came from certain prestige, which was our certain place loyalty program, they would’ve already accumulated points. So we really didn’t want anyone to feel like they were.


Missing out or, or that this program wasn’t an enhancement or an improvement on previous loyalty programs. Yeah. So, you know, they came over and we had all, all of these points, obviously that were allocated, but then nobody was traveling. So like every other hotel brand, we sort of had to take the expire away.


Yeah. And say, you know, your points, aren’t gonna expire. We don’t, because that would not be great for our members. If we were like, Hey, we’ll sign you up. And then you, you know, you’re not literally not allowed to travel. So you can’t really use these. So we did our best and we, you know, we looked at our competitors and, and our friends in the industry as well.


Yeah. So the, the breakage is kind of, it’s tricky right now because I think what we will see and we have seen is the, the burn is starting to pick up obviously with the more that, um, that our members are traveling and, and this summer in particular, like it’s just such a great summer for travel. And I think, well, maybe not for, for airlines right now.


but totally. Lot of missing bags over hotels. I think, um, you know, I think all of our, our hotels are having a great summer, which is fantastic. So I think we will expect to see the breakage rate, start to settle a little bit more as people get back into a normal pattern for travel. Yeah. It’s been super hard to identify what that should be because we, we just haven’t had a normal, we haven’t had a normal 12 months in probably near least, or years, so totally.


Totally. Yeah. And I guess as well, I mean, you already alluded to it Fiona, but I think, you know, the, the future and the breadth and the expansion across the group means that, you know, actually what you do want is redemption within the group, obviously. Yes. To the maximum possible. So I’m sure you’re busy building up that portfolio of options to delight your members.


Do you already have those in the program as things stand. Currently we do not. Um, we have, okay. Uh, so I mentioned a couple of benefits earlier, but we, we will be looking to onboard our restaurant partners. Okay. So, um, I mentioned we have, you know, Denny’s we have chop steakhouse, Moxies shark club. Um, I think the restaurants makes the most.


Sense for us as our initial partners too onboard. Yeah. Um, because we have those amazing restaurants at every hotel and that’s a, a, a key differentiator for Sandman versus our competitive set mm-hmm  um, is we have restaurants that people want to eat in at our hotels because you know, let’s be Frank, some hotel restaurants are.


They’re hotel restaurants, ours are not hotel restaurants. They are standalone, you know, they’re not standalone, they’re in the same building, but they’re known name brand restaurants that people really seek out to go and have an amazing steakhouse experience at chop. You know, Moxies, it has done amazing work recently.


And. Um, revitalize the summer menu. So it’s, it’s we offer things that our guests want. So it makes total sense to onboard our restaurant partners. Mm-hmm  um, it is, even though we’re all under the same roof, there’s obviously so many different systems and so many different, you know, um, technical, uh, things we need to ironite and overcome.


But that’s, I think what gets like keeps me excited and involved is like, okay, well we’ve cracked the hotel side of things now, how does this work in restaurants? Like how, you know, how does it work when our customers can, our guests can burn their points at Denny’s or they can earn points and chop and then stay with us, or, yeah.


Um, so that whole ecosystem and the kind of mechanics of it. As I said, we’re, we’re kind of just at the end of year one and the hotels pieces is now running a lot smoother. Yeah. Um, but those integrations are so exciting because that really starts to bring loyalty to the forefront of Northland properties.


And it makes us even more of a force to be reckoned with than we currently are. Yes. Well, I can hear the, you’re a force to be reckoned with Fiona.  it’s just, that’s the Irish in me.  totally, totally, but I love the passion, the excitement, the, you know, this sheer vision to go. This can just be so good for our customers.


Like, you know, there’s integrity that comes through there. There’s joy in taking care of your, your guests. And I always do feel Fiona that people feel how the brand treats them. Like it’s not just the. You know, the design of the property or the design of the product. I think the intention of the business and the people that run it comes through in, in, in almost hard to define ways mm-hmm , but it’s something that people feel.


So it sounds like something that Northland properties is definitely committed to doing. We are. Yeah. I mean, guest experience and guest obsession is, is kind of our number one of number one. We, we just, we have it at our, our forefront, you know, of our, our minds all the time. So it’s, it’s enhancing guest experience is making sure people have a great, um, you know, a great time at Moxies or Denny’s or chop and, and that we’re driving this awareness of that.


We have hotels as well. We have resorts as well. So yeah, just, you know, it’s kind of like this. The hole is bigger than the sum of its parts. You know, it’s, it’s such a, an amazing, um, multibrand hospitality company. And we just wanna make sure that, you know, if you, you have a great experience in any of our properties or any of our, our brands, Yeah.


And you mentioned sports teams as well, Fiona. So I guess there’s even opportunities for surprise and delight and my goodness, all sorts of opportunities with that. Yeah. And, and so we, um, uh, Tom Lardy is the owner governor of the Dallas stars. Um, and we do have some hotels in, um, in, in, uh, Plano and we at opening, um, a couple more in Texas in the, in the net near future.


So you’re totally right. There’s an opportunity to, and, and, you know, we have Moxies down there. We have shark club and we have plans for expansion, um, with all of our brands. So there’s a lot of opportunity to tie the brands together, to reward them. We’ve we’ve had a lot of success, um, with doing cross promotions, with say gross mountain, um, for an experience of a hotel, stay on a trip to gross, or, you know, a chop steakhouse and a stay at, um, our signature properties.


So many unique ways for collaboration and, you know, to, to give Manos another shout out. Um, he has done an amazing job of building, um, a, a really cross functional marketing team at Northland. So we do have, you know, dedicated people on each brand. But what we are trying to do now is just get a whole lot better at working together, because that was a bit of a surprise to me.


When I, you know, onboarded, I was like, oh, I’d say we all work together perfectly harmoniously. And it, it wasn’t really the case. Then we didn’t have the right structure of a team. Okay. But now, you know, to have him kind of overseeing the entire marketing team at Northland. So it’s, you know, I think it’s almost 50 people now and have this kind of broader vision of where the company is moving and how all these brands are working together and what the potential is.


Um, it’s fantastic. Yeah. Yeah. And you quoted a number as well, uh, on our last call, which I loved Fiona, just in terms of the number of employees. And I suppose some of the stories that, uh, some of those have had in terms of long careers with the business. Oh, I mean, I think we refer to them as, you know, our Sandman stars, but you know, we are, we have over 10,000 employees at a, at Northland as a whole, and on the Sandman side, we have.


You know, one of our VP of operations started as I think, a bellboy in Cologna and then just worked his way up, you know, the whole way. Wow. It, it, it is, um, we’ve done quite a bit of research recently and, and we’re in the middle of kind of a, a brand, um, piece, as I mentioned earlier. Um, but we did, uh, our brand agency did a lot of work with, um, Some of our teams.


So, uh, full punch is the agency that we work with and Jack is amazing there. Uh, he interviewed almost, I think, 35 people from across, uh, the Sandman and at all kind of different levels. Yeah. And you know, it was a really great, um, kind of, uh, It really reinforced in our heads that we have a very, very committed and passionate team.


And some people like we frequently celebrate people’s 15, 20, 25 years. Some of our executive housekeepers have been there since, you know, since before some of my team were born, which is absolutely crazy.  um, but it, you know, it, it shows that there’s a, a really strong career growth path within not only Sandman, but also Northland.


And we, whenever we interview someone, even, you know, especially, I’d say for. Marketing team. We let them know that there’s flexibility and there’s room to change. And you know, one of our, um, our, our team has worked on a number of our brands and they started in hotels and transitioned on a more senior old to restaurants.


And that’s the way that you can, you, your career is sort of endless within Northland. Um, so it’s just such a great company to get into. And I’m I’m because when I, you know, was first approached, I was like, who’s north on properties kind of sounds like. You know, a real estate company, which we are, and we’re also construction, but we also have all of these amazing brands.


So yeah. Um, you know, just driving awareness of Northland and, um, and, and, and understanding of these fantastic 17 or 18 brands that we have under one roof is, um, it’s definitely a, a work in progress, but we’re getting there.  totally, totally. And as marketeers, you know, definitely there is no such thing as a good secret, so.


We’re here to share, share the story of Northland and the success that you’re creating and driving there in Canada. It’s, uh, very inspiring. So with all of that said, I think that’s all my questions, Fiona, I guess just maybe, you know, what does the future hold we’ve touched on it a little bit already in terms of, uh, spanning the breadth of, uh, of all of those, uh, wonderful kind of 1718 brands, but what else are you excited about as you, uh, go forward with, on your loyalty journey?


I guess. Yeah, I, I think, um, you know, technology and trends within the loyalty space and seeing how we can deliver amazing experiences. I, I, you know, I still first thing in the morning, like I look at all my newsletters and like what’s happening and, you know, Deloitte report came out yesterday about the future of hotels and I’m like, okay, I’ll have to pin that one to, to read it later, but it’s, um, it’s just such an exciting phase. And I feel that, um, hospitality as an industry is, you know, technology. We have to kind of incorporate it to be more at the forefront. Um, and I think that that will help to enhance our loyalty experience as well. Yeah. Um, which is, and it’s kind of, it’s hard to say what the future holds because it’s so full of potential and there’s such an opportunity to.


You know, develop all of these other connections with internal partners, external partners, new technology suppliers. It, it, it is, uh, the world is our oyster right now. So, um, I’m just excited to see what it. Yeah. Yeah. And I was thinking actually, as you were saying that, you know, with the, with the international, I know there’s just a couple at the moment, but literally it sounds like the world is your oyster.


If there’s that level of ambition and I, for detail and real estate perspective, and then building from those into individual incredible businesses, like super exciting to be working for a company that literally the sky’s the. Yeah,  it definitely is. So, yes. Uh, well, you’re gonna be a busy lady for the foreseeable future, um, for all the right reasons, Fiona.


So listen, it’s been wonderful to meet you. Um, really thrilled that we got to connect and again, with so many things in common, I almost can’t believe that our paths haven’t crossed in the past , but. I certainly hope that we’ll be spending more time, uh, staying up to date on everything you’re doing with loyalty in Sandman.


So I just wanna say Fiona McFaul, Vice President of Marketing and Loyalty at Sandman and Sutton Place Hotels. Thank you so much from Let’s Talk Loyalty. Thanks so much, Paula. Have a great day.


This show is brought to you by the Australian Loyalty Association. The leading organization for loyalty, networking, and education in Asia Pacific, their international virtual loyalty conference will take place on the 25th of August, 2022. Register now to hear global experts discuss current trends in loyalty marketing, there will be fantastic networking opportunities, questions and answers, gamification and great prizes to be won. Visit australianloyaltyassociation.com to find out more.


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