The W hotel in Barcelona. Photo by Barb DeLollis.

The W hotel in Barcelona. Photo by Barb DeLollis.

Welcome to the kick-off of’s first-ever guest -blogger series!

For me personally, it’s my second such series. I launched my first one way back in April 2009 when I had the then-whacky idea of inviting big-name hotel CEOs to guest blog on my first online community, USA TODAY’s Hotel Check-In. Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen blogged for a full week first, and over the next year, the CEOs of Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, Rosewood, Wyndham, Loews, Kimpton and about 10 well-known hotel companies followed. Five years later, I’ve decided to boot the CEOs. Instead of CEOs, I’m inviting the loyalty chiefs of travel companies to guest blog probably just once. I figured it’s timely, given how views about loyalty – from both the consumer side and the industry side – are in such a state of flux. I’m asking the loyalty chiefs to blog about the “why” behind recent news, tell us their view about an emerging trend, or break news. I will edit the pieces before publishing, and if it’s like last time, the editing process will vary greatly from person to person.

I’m again kicking this series off with Starwood, which last week announced it will launch a B2B loyalty program. Starwood EVP Christie Hicks wrote the post below. Watch Travel Update later this week to see which executives from which companies are on deck in the coming months. Perhaps you’ll have questions that I can pass on to them as they write their posts. 

– Barb @barbdelollis

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By Christie Hicks, SVP Sales for Starwood Hotels & Resort

Hospitality companies have long been invested in finding new ways to cultivate guest loyalty.

That’s certainly truer today than ever before as global growth, new technology, and changing preferences create more avenues to connect with guests and uncover new opportunities. And consumers deservedly benefit from the greater rewards and program transparency that follows.

However, we know that the same does not necessarily hold true for the B2B customer.

B2B loyalty programming has historically been more fragmented and less personalized. You might attribute that to the complexities of the segment, the consumer-driven nature of our business, or even the technology challenges that it’s posed.

What’s important now is that we focus on how we can shift that paradigm given the magnitude of business this space represents. Using Starwood as an example, B2B accounts for approximately 70% of our global rooms revenue.

So we clearly owe it to ourselves and our customers to re-imagine what a winning B2B loyalty solution looks like.

That’s why our teams have invested the past 18 months developing, testing, and creating a program that raises the bar on B2B loyalty.

Scheduled to go live on October 15th, 2014, SPG Pro is the first customer loyalty program of its kind to be implemented on a global scale, and it will reward our customers for business booked across every Starwood brand and property.

Taking a page from what we’ve learned in guest loyalty, we’re leveraging the success and infrastructure of Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). On any given day, over 50% of our occupancy globally is from SPG members. We’ve combined what SPG brings to the table with the best attributes of our heritage B2B loyalty and education programs like Starwood Preferred Planner and StarwoodPro.

The result is one integrated program for group, transient, leisure, and individual travel that is easy for meeting and travel professionals to understand and redeem. So for the first time, we’re recognizing all of our customers’ business, both professional and personal travel to build status. This way, customers now have the opportunity to earn Starpoints and status along with all the SPG benefits that guests love.

Complementary in design, the program also rewards SPG members – guests – for booking meetings and events regardless of their travel professional status. In essence, we are helping to bridge the rewards and recognition gap between customer and guest at both ends of the spectrum.

Embracing this more holistic view of loyalty will help us drive meaningful improvements going forward and uncover more ways to personalize both the process and the rewards.

When we acknowledge that customers are also guests, and conversely that guests can be customers, we get better at understanding and connecting with the individual. In turn, we can help customers maximize their opportunities with our hotels on behalf of their business and for themselves, while also simplifying their transactions with Starwood.

SPG additionally helps by providing a platform that’s already familiar to clients, guests, and hotel teams alike.

Of course, no matter how innovative the program or handsome the rewards, achieving long-term loyalty will always be a function of trust, consistency, and execution. That’s why we’re proud of the fact that 90% of our most loyal customers name their Starwood sales person as their competitive advantage.

So now with SPG Pro, we get to take those best-in-class relationships and pair that with the benefits of SPG to provide a truly personal and fully integrated loyalty experience. From the sales office to the front office, every hotel associate has a hand in building B2B loyalty.