SERVING the sector

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2011, 12:00am


Loyalty schemes have traditionally been pitched at individual travellers. From air-miles programmes, seeking frequent flyers, to hotels tempting executives though their lobbies, bonus points and extra nights have been used to sway their minds.

Yet, travellers generally do not make the bookings for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE). Behind every successful high-flying businessman or group is a well-practised booker.

As the MICE market continues to bounce back from the woes of the economic downturn, hotels and other travel specialists are using what they have learned from their main loyalty schemes and are applying them to give sweeter deals to meetings bookers, who can be company-hired or third-party events specialists.

Loyalty schemes have been used to great success. Nichlas Maratos, Asia-Pacific marketing director for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, says that amid the downturn business dropped 30-40 per cent at Starwood, but that business from existing customers - those using loyalty schemes - stayed static. Now, as growth increases in the region, more can be done to increase sales. 'I think anything to do with MICE is very sales-driven, so no doubt these programmes can drive that,' Maratos says.

'The MICE market is becoming more sophisticated and professional. Hence it is a perfect time to introduce loyalty programmes,' says Philippe Garnier, senior vice-president for Hilton Worldwide, Asia-Pacific.

So what's on offer? Starwood's Preferred Planner allows bookers to earn one point for every US$3 spent and links accounts to merge personal and professionally earned points. The points can be spent across all nine of the company's brands. Hilton's Sea Mice and a Million offers hotel and airline miles with no blackout dates.

At The Shilla Seoul, which has hosted meetings and events for political dignitaries and Korean celebrity weddings, a two-pronged programme is in place. One scheme targets MICE attendees and another caters to those booking them. Its S-Point scheme gives points per Korean won spent and that translates to electronics, meal and room vouchers.

FCm Travel Solutions goes straight to the source. Its FCm Advantage programme, launched in Hong Kong in 2009, targets travel agents. When they book, they enjoy its benefits and are also free to collect on hotel loyalty schemes.

The number of clients on the programme now is almost twice that of those not using it. 'We see this programme playing an integral role in our overall growth because it helps build our client business and minimises the leakage of clients' travel spend with our competitors,' says David Fraser, general manager for Greater China.

Loyalty schemes could prosper as companies streamline travel budgets. 'Companies are being encouraged by travel management companies to put in place strategic meetings management programmes to better track, control and organise meetings. One of the key areas is the development of preferred agreements with hotel chains,' says Emilie Couton, director of sales solutions with Accor Asia-Pacific, whose A-Club offers hotel e-vouchers, air miles and partner offers. That means more points, and more prizes, for bookers.