Last year, Marriott International acquired Starwood and became the world's largest hotel chain. In doing so, Marriott now has the largest hotel loyalty program.

In my previous article, "Marriott on the Future of Hotels", I shared what I learned from Stephanie Linnartz, Global Chief Commercial Officer & EVP at Marriott International, on her vision of where the hotel industry is headed and why Fast Company named Marriott as one of the most innovative companies of 2017. In this article, we're going to hear what she has to say about the future of hotel loyalty programs.

Stephanie Linnartz is a wealth of insights and information and I did my best to keep up as she laid out just how important bringing Marriott International's and Starwood's giant loyalty programs together and how the eventual combined loyalty program will benefit customers, property owners, franchises and all of Marriott's 30 hotel brands (each with its own price point).

The Importance of Combining 2 Giant Hotel Loyalty Programs

In her keynote presentation at Millennial 2020, Stephanie Linnartz acknowledged just how important both Marriott and Starwood's loyalty programs were to their business and, as such, the decision was made to keep the two loyalty programs separate until all the unique benefits from each of the two programs can be ironed out.

That said, Stephanie Linnartz is very excited about the possibilities that the data from both of the loyalty programs will provide. "With 30 brands at various price points, we're excited about brining the two loyalty programs together", she explained. "Did you know that for our guests who frequently stay at the Ritz Carlton, their second most frequent hotel stay is at a Courtyard Marriott? It makes sense. Sure I love to wear an expensive skirt, but I also buy clothes at Target."

The Value of a Rich Treasure Trove of Loyalty Data

We discussed the implications of having such a rich treasure trove of loyalty data from both programs and how it will lead to better customer insights, anticipating needs and better understanding ways to improve guest experiences and overall trends.

"I believe that size and scale matter," Stephanie Linnartz said. "As the world's largest hotel chain with the largest loyalty program, there are more resources in consumer facing technology, more scale, and more that we can invest. Technology is part of the guest experience these days and with more resources, we can deliver better experiences."

Unprecedented Customer Insights

And with 30 brands to choose from, a combined loyalty program will deliver unprecedented insights about customer preferences, unique travel patterns, repeat purchase behaviors and the kind of insights most marketers would love to have. There's just one problem: Younger travelers don't frequent as many hotels and often decide it's not worth signing up for the loyalty program in the first place. To combat this, Marriott has come up with a different strategy and approach to entice early enrollees.

Enticing the Younger (Less Frequent) Travelers to Enroll

"We think about different ways to encourage younger travelers to be part of our loyalty program even if they don't travel that much," she said. "We have designated loyalty points for engaging in social media so that we can get them engaged well before hey start travelling. We've developed cool, original content on YouTube. We want people to have an affinity for Marriott even before they age into more frequent travelers."

And if you haven't seen what Marriott has been up to on YouTube, they have been diving deeper into creating television-quality episodic content that simply has their hotels as part of the setting for the story. For example, actress Nicey Nash stars in a new web series, "As the Fire Pit Burns".

In order to attract younger guests into Marriott and its loyalty program, they are taking a more concerted effort to speak to them where they are spending their time - less network television and more YouTube and streaming content. These shifts are deliberate ways to engage their targeted audience well before they are frequent travelers so that they have a positive brand image of Marriott's 30 brands before they really fall in love with travel. Providing non-travel rewards as part of the loyalty program gives them a reason to enroll and engage with their favorite hotel brands.

Look for More Innovation Coming Out of Marriott

As Marriott combines its loyalty program with Starwood, expect to see some great rewards, and also increasingly intelligent offers coming your way. By combining all the data from both programs with an understanding of consumer preferences, Marriott will be managing the largest hotel loyalty program that spans all 30 of its brands. It won't be technology for technology's sake, but with people like Stephanie Linnartz on the team, you're sure to see continuous innovation for the foreseeable future.