- By Clint Wheelock
- February 10, 2023
Kristi Gole is Executive Vice President, Strategy at Global Hotel Alliance (GHA), the world’s largest alliance of independent hotel brands. The organization offers a loyalty program, known as GHA DISCOVERY, which serves approximately 40 hotel brands comprising 800 properties in 100 countries, with 22 million members worldwide. Among the hotels in the alliance, about 320 properties are in Europe, 150 are in Asia, and the rest are dispersed. The US is a relatively small market for GHA, accounting for approximately 1 million of its total members. GHA maintains approximately 90 employees around the world, with the highest concentration in Dubai. Gole has been with the alliance for more than 13 years, having held roles in loyalty marketing, customer strategy and insights, and transformation & marketing before assuming her current role in early 2022.
Most Significant CX Challenges and Success Stories
“Resources have been a huge challenge,” asserts Gole, adding that some hotels were operating with 20% of normal staffing levels during the height of the pandemic, and some properties are still only up to 50% of staffing levels. The pandemic effect still overhangs the hotel industry, including persistent staffing challenges, despite business and leisure travel beginning to return to normalcy. In such an environment, guest experience and satisfaction are more important than ever.
The alliance relaunched GHA DISCOVERY under a new offering structure in 2021, which resulted in a significant increase in customer engagement with the loyalty program. Previously, just 4% of active stayers were receiving rewards through the program, a figure that increased to 100% after the relaunch. Gole calculates that hotel brands’ return on investment (ROI) for the program have increased from 14x to 17x as a result of the changes.
As an industry alliance rather than a traditional corporate structure, GHA maintains a delicate balancing act when it comes to governance and decision making. Gole explains that any significant changes require the approval of all stakeholder groups, most notably the 40 hotel brands that are part of the alliance. With the recent program restructuring, the brands needed to pay more, but the fee structure was also changed – they were only charged if guests actually stayed, rather than simply being members on the program roster. Despite some early concerns among stakeholders, Gole is satisfied that the ROI improvement has demonstrated the effectiveness and value of the program relaunch.
GHA maintains a proprietary data mart and a proprietary portal, known as Discovery Dashboard – both integral elements of the alliance’s technology stack in collecting and making use of its 22 million members’ activity. Looking toward the next few years in terms of technology priorities and investment, Gole anticipates utilizing the current systems as a foundation, and expanding personalization capabilities, scalability, and content management. She adds that Oracle is a GHA shareholder, but its products are not necessarily a cornerstone of GHA’s strategy.
Predictions for CX Market Development
Looking at the direction of CX within the hotel industry at large, Gole observes that there is a major shift underway in the luxury hotel segment to a high-touch guest experience, as opposed to the deployment of automation technologies that are more prevalent in the mid-tier segment of the market. Systems, processes, and data flows will need to enable frontline employees to assist customers more effectively, rather than guests being expected to serve themselves. Gole shares that this dynamic is similar to the bifurcation in the retail industry, in which some brands are shifting back to a brick-and-mortar experience while others are concentrating their efforts on the online customer experience.
About the CX Innovator Series
The CX Innovator Series is an actionable and educational industry initiative that showcases the best practices that leading end-user executives are using within their organizations to shape their community’s experience. The series is a collaborative effort between Dash Network, Sleeping Giant Labs, and Team Wakabayashi. Using expertly curated executive interviews combined with quantitative research from consumer surveys, the CX Innovator Series provides tangible insights and a deeper understanding of how successful companies are utilizing CX programs resulting in positive business outcomes.
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