One of the perks (or drawbacks depending on your perspective) of being a reporter is traveling on assignments. I've been sent to conferences in Cologne, Germany; New Orleans; Las Vegas, and Minneapolis among other cities in my career.
As a frequent traveler, I have signed up for all kinds of loyalty programs. Being a loyalty member has helped smooth the bumps in traveling, such as with seat upgrades or early check-ins.
Traveling for leisure is another story though, as rewards programs do not necessarily connect your preferences as a business traveler with your personal profile. Companies are trying to change that by eliminating customer data silos and creating comprehensive customer profiles.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts is one such company that is streamlining its customer data to bring more business to its hotels. Yesterday, the Stamford, Conn., company unveiled a new loyalty program for meeting and travel professionals called SPG Pro. The new program, which will be launched in October, allows more people to get rewarded for planning group/meeting travel.
Business travel is an increasingly lucrative part of the hotel market. The number of business trips by U.S. companies grew nearly 3 percent in the first three months of 2014 as compared to the same period in 2013, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).
U.S. business travelers are expected to spend $292.3 billion this year, 6.8 percent more than last year. The GBTA attributes the uptick to an increase in the amount spent on group meetings or conventions, and forecasts a 7.1 percent increase for such travel compared to last year.
And hoteliers like Starwood are positioning themselves to capture those dollars. Previously, the Starwood Preferred Planner program allowed members to earn Starpoints which were separate from their personal accounts. But under the new program rules, the points will be combined and registered professionals, as well as SPG Members who book group and corporate travel, will be able to earn Starpoints too.
"If you completed 20 eligible nights as a professional and 5 nights as a leisure traveler, you'll be able to combine those nights to get the Gold status," explains Jonathan Kaplan, director of new business developments and prospecting at Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
Starwood is also working on integrating its data across its accounts for leisure and business travelers.
"We'll be able to know that as a business traveler, for example, you have preferences that are different from your experience as a leisure traveler, and we'll know you're the same person," Kaplan adds.