Interview: Hyatt’s New Head of Global Loyalty is ‘Laser Focused’ on Keeping Guests Happy

By Jonathan Spira on 29 September 2017
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If you listen to the headline writers, loyalty is dead, possibly killed by millenials who were too apathetic to notice. Companies in the travel industry – hoteliers, airlines, rental car agencies, and the like – hope this isn’t the case, although they realize they need to reinvent their relationships with their customers.

When Hyatt Hotels revamped its guest loyalty program and renamed it World of Hyatt, there was a certain amount of head scratching, and rightly so. The new elite status level names, such as Explorist and Globalist, were quirky and some industry commentators condemned the changes in benefits, seeing a diminishment in value.

Earlier this week, Hyatt announced the appointment of Mark Vondrasek to the newly created position of global head of loyalty and new business platforms with the title of executive vice president. The appointment followed the resignation of Jeff Zidell, who ran the loyalty program, although Vondrasek isn’t his replacement. Vondrasek arrives at Hyatt after 15 years at Starwood, where he bore responsibility for the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program.

We sat down with Mark to discuss his views on guest loyalty. Here’s what he had to say to FBT Editorial Director Jonathan Spira.

Jonathan Spira: What were you charged with upon arriving at Hyatt?

Mark Vondrasek: My role marries the World of Hyatt loyalty program with several of the organizations that Hyatt has acquired in the wellness space, including Miraval and Exhale. Our strategy is to move loyalty beyond traditional points and the types of transactional programs you’ve seen for years. We will be able to be more focused on experiential offerings and ways to connect with guests both when in stay and when not in stay.

JS: How do you do that?

MV: We have to ask ourselves, how do you find things that really resonate and matter to our members, and wellness is a great example. Today, more people are trying to be their best selves. If we do that well we can change the landscape of loyalty over time.

JS: What are the greatest concerns you have concerning loyalty today?

MV: When you ask people about loyalty in their lives, they speak of reciprocity and recognition and deep emotional relationships. Loyalty programs for the longest time drifted away from that and began to define people by 12-month increments and reset the barometers every January 1. There is a real dichotomy between how individuals think about relationships and where loyalty programs are going.

What the best organizations have begun to figure out is that loyalty is not defined in 12-month increments, it’s about recognition, experiences, things that really resonate on a much more frequent basis. This is what excited me about the opportunity to join Hyatt and this is what World of Hyatt is reaching to do and how it will differentiate itself in this space.

JS: What do you see as the greatest issues you need to tackle?

MV: Good question. It’s day two for me. I’m in a listening and fact-finding mode, spending time like this conversation and many others to learn.

The biggest issue will be consistency and making sure our message is well understood. We plan to open up the architecture and create a listening mechanism that truly works. The best loyalty programs are centered on member feedback and focused on solving pain points.

JS: Finally, Mark, what keeps you up at night?

MV: For me, I think what I’ve always cared a lot about is that we make all of our members extremely happy. I get frustrated whenever members are dissatisfied: my goal is to make certain they are not. Of course any program will have offers for its members that some find more or less exciting than others, that’s unavoidable. But we intend to remain laser focused on keeping members very very happy

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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