How would loyalty in corporate travel and MICE be shaped by the pandemic? Some hospitality players are taking stock of this during the downtime.
The current season can be seen as aÂ pit stop providing hospitality players with the opportunity to rethink what loyalty means and relook at theÂ purpose and effectiveness of their corporate loyalty programmes.
After all, business travel and physical events are not viable at the moment, and the pandemic has pushed companies everywhere to digitalise their operations, noted Ben George, senior vice president and commercial director, Asia-Pacific, Hilton.
For George, this means that loyalty for corporate travel and business events can noÂ longer involve just points and incentives. â€śFuture innovations in technology, from interactive Q&A platforms to (VR/AR-enabled) live streaming, will be (the) key to winning the loyalty ofÂ corporate clients and (event organisers in the future),â€ť he reckoned.
Melissa Gan, managing director, Asia-Pacific, World Hotels, however, opined that the value of loyalty programmes in attracting and retaining corporate clients is made more evident in â€śunprecedented times like thisâ€ť.
She added that loyalty is a â€śvalued assetâ€ť for hospitality businesses looking to compete in the existing climate, where Covid-19 has reshaped the travel and hospitality industry.
â€śWith customer expectations driving the programmes, they will need to evolve from just a point programme for free stays, gift and travel cards, to include an extensive retail shopping platform, aligning with partners to enable more flexibility and choice for consumers and heightened partnerships with industries not normally linked to travel,â€ť she said.
Nevertheless, Gan acknowledges the cost ofÂ developing competitive programmes and their impact on the bottom line.
Such considerations will bear even more weight in the immediate future, as hospitality businesses struggle to recover.
The need for corporate-facing loyalty programmes to be competitive and relevant is not new, as hotel companies have had to fight hard in good times to capture a larger market share in corporate travel and business events.
When Pan Pacific Hotels Group (PPHG) initiated its corporate bookersâ€™ reward programme, PanÂ Pacific Connections, in 2018, it was to â€ścompete betterâ€ť in the corporate space, recalled Cinn Tan, chief sales and marketing officer.
To sweeten the lure, PanÂ Pacific Connections is by-invitation-only and the privileged access is granted solely to clients with existing contracts with the hospitality group. Points are earned though booking venues and guestrooms atÂ participating properties, and used to claim free room nights and dining perks.
Invited businesses can either apply for company membership, where points are credited to the companyâ€™s account, or allow employees to take on a personal membership to gain points throughout his employment with the organisation.
Hospitality giant Accor, in line with the revamp of its consumer and corporate loyalty programmes and assimilation under oneÂ brand â€“ Accor Live Limitless (ALL) â€“ introduced the ALL Meeting Planner offer, which rewards business event organisers when certain criteria is fulfilled.
Depending on the agreement between employer and employee, points could go towards cutting the costs of future events or paying for sports matches and concert tickets.
According to PPHGâ€™s Tan, corporate loyalty programmes can â€śimpact the RFP negotiation processâ€ť and act as leverage when the organisation and the individual take into account perks such as guaranteed rates and rewards.
A corporate travel manager in charge of Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, shared that the US-based MNC he works for is firm about choosing a hotel group that offers a corporate loyalty programme when it comes to business events, even though it is not explicitly brought up in RFP conversations.
In fact, such loyalty programmes could help companies better manage travel costs, noted another corporate travel manager in the pharmaceuticals industry, who is in charge of the companyâ€™s travel programme in the region.