Recently my family and I haven been staying at a couple of FS around the world and this got me thinking m: if practically every other hotel company in the world has a rewards programme – how does the FS manage without one and then how does it ensure customer keep on returning? I just think that in this day in age surely they would be at a huge disadvantage for not being able to guarantee customer loyalty? Also, do you think that FS will have a loyalty programme in the near future?
It’s a great question — why doesn’t Four Seasons have a loyalty program? A vast majority of other hospitality groups (and hell, many businesses in general) have loyalty programs, so what makes Four Seasons different?
Many of Four Seasons’ high end competitors have loyalty programs — think Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Shangri-La Golden Circle, St. Regis Starwood Preferred Guest, Park Hyatt Gold Passport, etc.
However, Four Seasons isn’t alone in not having a loyalty program. Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, and Aman don’t have loyalty programs, just to name a few (though Aman is in a completely different league than Four Seasons, in my opinion).
Why doesn’t Four Seasons have a loyalty program?
Per a Skift article with Four Seasons’ CEO back in 2014, here’s why Four Seasons doesn’t have a traditional loyalty program:
Our focus, and we are very focused on it in terms of a “program,” is on recognition. Loyalty is associated with, if I demonstrate my loyalty by staying with you, I accumulate points and get free things.
Our view of our guests and certainly our feedback from our guests is they’re far less concerned about accumulating points to be redeemed for rewards as they are being in a position where they’re recognized and we understand their preferences and can serve them in that highly personalized way they’ve come to expect.
You will hear, over the course of the near term, our talking about programs related to recognition that we will be undertaking, but again, as I said, it is focused on the distinction between recognition and rewards. One is recognizing you, understanding your distinct preferences and desires and being able to accommodate those, as opposed to a points-based program. I actually think it’s very compatible with what our guests are actually looking for.
I don’t think this comes as a surprise, and in many ways I can’t blame Four Seasons for not wanting to have a points based program. Hotel programs are mostly revenue based, and airline programs are headed in that direction as well. At some point these become more like discount programs than anything else, especially as the programs become more and more revenue based.
Why Four Seasons should have a loyalty program
Four Seasons has long said that they’ve wanted to create a program about recognition, though we still haven’t formally seen anything on that front. I do think Four Seasons does a better job than average when it comes to tracking and recognizing repeat guests at individual hotels, but that’s not the case across the portfolio as a whole. Long term you’d think they’d want guests to be loyal to the chain as a whole, rather than individual hotels.
What makes this all a bit backwards is that Four Seasons really isn’t rewarding loyal consumers who book directly with hotels, but you can get very nice benefits (almost as if you have elite status) for staying at Four Seasons if you’re booking through Four Seasons Preferred Partner travel advisors, Virtuoso, or through Fine Hotels & Resorts.
Of course I understand why Four Seasons wants to keep travel advisors happy, but you’d think they’d be thrilled when guests want to book directly with them, without a travel advisor taking a commission.
Someone can really like Four Seasons, but still not have any loyalty to them as a whole, and that’s where a program can add value. What’s the point of trying to be loyal if you’re not getting rewarded for it in any way? That’s not to say that the reward has to come in the form of points, but rather through added recognition.
Four Seasons would argue they want you to stay with them because they offer a better all around experience, but that’s not universally true. Can Four Seasons say with a straight face that their property in Sydney is better than the Park Hyatt? The point is, a loyalty program can potentially impact where you choose to stay, even if it’s not that rewarding.
But maybe Four Seasons should have a points program as well?
I know the common thought is that Four Seasons shouldn’t have a points based loyalty program, but I think there could be merit to it as well:
- There’s huge money in co-brand credit card partnerships, so Four Seasons could do really well with a co-branded credit card. That’s especially true since the people who would acquire one are likely to be affluent, and could be big spenders.
- Luxury hotels hate directly discounting, while they still want to keep their hotels full as much as possible, which is why we frequently see them offer third night free, fifth night free, resort credits, etc. It’s a way to discount without cheapening the brand. The same could be true with a points program, as it would allow people to book without directly lowering the average daily rate.
- Four Seasons doesn’t even necessarily have to issue points for hotel stays, but in theory could introduce a recognition based loyalty program, and then award points for other activities.
I really don’t understand what Four Seasons is thinking.
On the most basic level, they’ve been saying for years that they want to introduce a recognition based loyalty program. They haven’t done that, so in my opinion that’s a bit of a failure on their end (just in terms of what they’re saying vs. how they’re acting).
At a minimum I think there’s merit to them having a recognition based loyalty program, which customizes the experience even more for frequent guests.
However, I think they’re also underestimating the value they could get out of a points based system, especially if they introduce a premium credit card.
Do you think Four Seasons should have a loyalty program, and if so, should it be strictly recognition based, or also have a points system?