Starwood Hotels and Resorts is upping the ante on loyalty programs with an iPhone, iPod and iPad application that extends a new slate of services for its Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, which the company calls "richest elite program in the industry" for "mega travelers."
The new app, which is actually Starwood’s third-generation mobile app, includes things like FaceTime integration -- a first for any company (that isn't Apple.) The app also includes fully integrated booking, member information, comprehensive hotel searches and travel details, customer service and social media.
"It's knowing who you are, anticipating your needs and supporting you every step of way through your travel experience," says Alyssa Waxenberg, director of mobile and social media at Starwood. "The value of it is the fact that it covers Starwood's nine brands so it brings one app to SPG members for any of our 1,100 hotels around the world. We think while others have done apps, ours is the most comprehensive." She says the company will promote the app principally through loyalists via digital outreach and social channels.
Waxenberg tells Marketing Daily that since Starwood sees its properties as lifestyle-oriented brands (Westin is directed toward healthy-lifestyle consumers, W to culture and music), the application will begin to reflect that. "Our roadmap is to build functionality for those brands by building content into this app. All of these ideas are open." The application, developed with Dallas-based BottleRocket, also employs a technology called "state-aware," meaning it sends an email push 48 hours before a guest is scheduled to arrive at a Starwood hotel or resort, with the “My Stay” interface becoming reflective of the specific brand and property.
The home-screen also shows things like hotel address in both English and the local language, weather, directions and hotel amenities. Once at the hotel, the guest can use the app to show their room number, and it offers on- and off-property dining and activity suggestions, and in-app access to social media channels such as Foursquare and Facebook.
Chris Holdren, SVP and head of digital at Starwood, tells Marketing Daily that even though the application grew out of the company's loyalty program, one doesn't have to be a member to use it. But "if you are a member, it does give you deeper functionality to manage your account." Holdren says the top 2% of Starwood property customers drive 30% of profit.
The risk with apps is that they simply disappear into one's iPhone app list like a pebble in a pool, tossed in once and never seen again. Holdren says he's not worried about this or having to incentivize the use of the new SPG app.
"I'd say the beauty of this app is it brings together things that add value and create experience. It's so easy to use and the real value and incentive is that it unites with social channels, allows easy booking, gives you all hotel content and creates a really personalized experience."
He says that since launching the first app three years ago on iTunes, the company has seen traffic growth on mobile of over 300%. From a bookings perspective, traffic has grown over 400% with almost 60% of bookings being for stays within the next 24 hours. “So it is a critical need; we are seeing people needing quick access to information." The application has a swipe menu on one margin of the screen designed to allow access with one thumb.
Holdren says there is a built-in channel to promulgate the applications. "We have hundreds of thousands of members who have downloaded the previous version, and we are also putting marketing behind it through SPG communications channels," he says, adding that hotels will also communicate to guests talk about the app.