By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
LAS VEGAS — Many in the hotel business view the Marriott-Starwood acquisition, Airbnb and Uber as disruptors, but Steve Joyce, president and CEO of Choice Hotels International, sees them as opportunities.
Marriott's acquisition of Starwood is great news for Choice, he told delegates to the 62nd Annual Choice Hotels International convention, because it means that Marriott will be distracted for the next two or three years. And while they are figuring things out, “we’ll
be moving forward, to
build or convert
more properties to Choice
branded hotels, to invest in improving your operations, to maximize rate and to drive millennials, mid-week business, and just more travellers to your door,” Joyce said.
Two years ago at a media round table at the conference, Joyce was one of the first hotel brand leaders to say that Airbnb must be taken seriously. Now, Choice is embracing the online sharing economy concept.
“Airbnb now captures 60 million guests to its more than one million listings. And Expedia now owns HomeAway, which it purchased for almost four billion dollars. Vacation rentals are big business. But we can own that and benefit by jumping into the
online vacation rental market. We have the opportunity to expose more consumers to Choice and capture more loyal customers,” said Joyce.
“We call it Vacation Rentals by Choice. Clever, isn't it?” he added.
“This initiative will reinforce the Choice brand and ultimately drive more customers and new customers to your hotels,” he told the assembled owners and managers.
This doesn't mean individual homeowners can call up Choice and get their spare bedroom listed. Instead, Choice is now offering its powerful distribution platform to
a select number of vacation rental management companies and introducing them to Choice Privileges, now the first rewards program to embrace the vacation rental industry.
“We will have professionals to check guests in and out and deal with any problems. There will be 24-hour availability. Sometimes [Airbnb] can be awesome, but 40 per cent of renters said the place was scary, or the guy was a creep and they didn't feel safe,” said Joyce during a media round table. “We will hire the best management companies in each area.”
For example, the Delaware Beaches have regulations at the town level. “We'll work with people who have figured that out,” said Pat Pacious,
executive vice president and chief operating officer, adding that companies with 200 to 500 units would be ideal.
Choice has made big changes to its loyalty rewards program.
“With the launch of the new Choice Privileges
program earlier this year, we captured one million new members in the first 100 days,” said Pacious, of the program that now has 26 million members. “And we’re on pace to add over four million new members by the end of the year.
“With these new
benefits, and with rewards that start on day one, our message is clear. We want every guest to know, whether they’re a road warrior or only stay once a year, the all-new Choice Privileges program offers a faster way to free nights, more points, and instant rewards. Why would you be loyal
to anyone else?”
In the U.S. at least, the instant rewards can include digitized gift cards for Uber — another example of Choice embracing the new shared economy. Other rewards in the U.S. are for Amazon, Shell and Starbucks, while in Canada Tim Hortons will be among the digitized offerings.
The idea is, of course, instant gratification, as the cards can be used while guests are staying in the hotel. The other idea is for guests to have Choice top of mind while they are buying items on Amazon, stopping for a coffee, buying gas or catching a ride with Uber.
“In my ideal world, when people are travelling, they’re checking their Choice Privileges accounts as often as they check the weather or their bank account,” said Jamie Russo, vice-president of loyalty programs and customer engagement, later in the convention.