Marriott Bonvoy Reflects Hospitality Loyalty Evolution

At first glance, there didn’t seem to be a lot of meat in Marriott International’s long-awaited announcement that their three legacy loyalty programs, which combined in August 2018, would move forward under the name Marriott Bonvoy.

After all, the main mechanics of the loyalty integration were already settled. Guests could combine accounts, which combined point balances and elite status calculations, currencies were standardized and a new harmonized award chart was revealed.

With the program already operating more-or-less in the way that it would moving forward, what else was there to say, aside from the mysterious delayed name reveal?

Plenty, as it turns out.

While there are some minor mechanical updates, like the announcement that the Marriott app would change names on February 13, and the legacy SPG and The Ritz-Carlton apps would be taken offline. There’s also the renaming of two elite tiers—after all, how many variations on “Platinum” does a program really need?

But the name Marriott Bonvoy, and the accompanying materials, give us a good peek at how the company views the evolution of hotel loyalty programs. Bonvoy, which Marriott says means “Good Travel” (an obvious diminution of the French “Bon Voyage”), heralds sort of a “Version 2.0” of loyalty program branding. Branding nerds may also notice that the second “o” in Bonvoy is underlined, which creates a pictograph of a person with their arms outstretched.

Hospitality Loyalty “Version 1.0,” which hospitality brands first launched three decades ago, was modeled on the airline programs. Like those programs did at the time, hotels also focused on traditional “earn and burn”. Earn for hotel stays, burn for hotel stays—it was pretty simple, and it was reflected in program names, most of which emphasized either reward redemption opportunities (Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, IHG Rewards) or guest recognition and perks (Starwood Preferred Guest, Choice Privileges, Fairmont President’s Club, Hyatt Gold Passport).

Now, with the introduction of Bonvoy, hospitality companies are refreshing their loyalty programs not as hotel programs, but travel lifestyle programs. Where the previous focus was on redemption opportunities and on-property perks and recognition, evolutions like Bonvoy demonstrate a more mature phase for hospitality programs. Hyatt did something similar with the introduction of World of Hyatt, a rather awkward but much grander sounding refresh to Hyatt Gold Passport.

It makes sense, as it reflects the farther reach of the programs into individual travel experiences. Members of Marriott Bonvoy can lean on the program to tailor their entire travel experience.

Guests can transfer points to an airline program to book a flight. Then they can choose a hotel from the combined program’s massive portfolio, which offers more luxury tier properties than the legacy Marriott Rewards, and more select service properties than the legacy Starwood Preferred Guest.

They can redeem points to layer in an exclusive experience with a celebrity chef or a Formula One driver, or they can purchase (and earn points) for events or tours at their destination, whether it’s tickets to a Broadway show in New York or a walking tour of famous film locations in London. If they’re not redeeming points, they can pay for it all using a number of different points-earning credit cards at various price points.

It was certainly time for a name change to reflect the “Version 2.0,” and perhaps to proclaim that hospitality programs are no longer also-rans to the older and more prolific airline programs.

Now, they aim to lead the pack—not just in hospitality, but for the travel industry at large.

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