10 questions with… Chinmai Sharma
LATTE chats with Chinmai Sharma, CRO of Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, about the decision to form an alliance with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, what sets their loyalty programme alliance apart from others in the market, and member benefits.
- Why form such an alliance?
This alliance gives our brands exposure to new markets and the broader scale necessary to compete in an era of mass consolidation and disruption. It is a financially strategic option – given the two companies’ ability to execute quickly and the low capital requirement. We will be able to improve brand awareness and increase market share in the two biggest outbound travel markets – India and China – by leveraging each other’s reputations and key customer bases – which are located in non-overlapping geographies. The alliance provides our members more value, more destination choices and more reasons to stay with us.
- How is this alliance different from other hotel loyalty programme alliances in market?
This goes beyond a multi-hotel distribution platform or cross-selling or marketing alliance. To date, hotel alliances have not been successful like the airlines’ One World or Star Alliance. We hope to change that. Shangri-La and Taj are the first two hotel companies to be able to form an alliance that integrates their powerful loyalty programmes, offering members reciprocal benefits at a scale never seen before in the industry. This will be a very visible and seamless alliance and a secondary phase will look at broader digital integration, deeper redemption opportunities and broad sales collaboration. There are a number loyalty partnerships in the travel industry, but never before have two separate hotel groups integrated their loyalty programmes without a business merger or financial investment in one or both companies.
- How does it work?
‘Warmer Welcomes’ is the new loyalty alliance between Taj and Shangri-La. It integrates Taj Inner Circle and Shangri-La’s Golden Circle guest loyalty programmes and provides members reciprocal and seamless benefits at a scale never seen before under a hospitality alliance.
- How will it be rolled out across all of Taj and Shangri-La’s hotels?
From March 2017 the Warmer Welcomes programme will roll out across all Taj and Shangri-La hotels in India, China and around the world. We will have a joint website as well as marketing campaigns targeting Golden Circle and Taj Inner Circle members and consumers.
Training will be provided to all staff at the properties to promote this strategic alliance and the benefits that it brings to arrival guests and members at the hotels.
- What are the benefits? Will there be any more benefits announced?
The ability for members to enjoy the perks of elite status across all Shangri-La and Taj hotels. The ability for members to earn their own /preferred programme’s loyalty points while staying at a partner hotel. The option to convert points to redeem awards between programmes. All brands are included in the alliance – including Shangri-La’s Hotel Jen, Kerry Hotel and Traders brands and Taj’s Vivanta and Gateway brands. Members of either programme need to simply ‘register’ on the Warmer Welcomes microsite by linking the membership numbers of the two programs to enjoy these benefits seamlessly.
A secondary phase after the initial launch will look at broader digital integration, deeper redemption opportunities and broad sales collaboration. (No timeline has been set at this time.)
- How will the Warmer Welcomes programme be marketed?
We will develop a joint microsite to introduce Warmer Welcomes to both our existing members and new customers around the world at the consumer launch in March 2017. We would also launch with a massive marketing campaigns through owned, paid and social channels communicating the benefits and drive awareness of this exciting alliance. Each programme will maintain its own branding with Warmer Welcomes acting as a marketing alliance platform for members to register and link their memberships to enjoy the benefits from this alliance.
- Will both hotel companies cross-sell to the other?
Yes, there will be alliance branding at customer touch points. This will include collateral, a programme microsite, in-room video, digital banners and online and offline creative assets such as digital posters, tent cards and eDM templates.
- Why did Taj and Shangri-La choose each other?
Our two companies are iconic in their markets as custodians of a service philosophy that champions heritage and is inspired by values. Furthermore, we have minimal overlap of hotels and a huge potential for customer cross-over. This positions them uniquely to establish a successful alliance to improve brand awareness and increase market share in the two biggest outbound travel markets – India and China.
Taj gives Shangri-La greater access to high net worth travellers in India and Shangri-La gives Taj greater access to HNW travellers in China.
China is one of the top ten destinations for Indian travelers according to the China National Tourism Office and is a rising source market for India with the largest potential for growth. China continues to lead global outbound travel and has recorded double digit growth every year since 2004. Meanwhile, over the next decade outbound Indian luxury travel will outpace that of its BRIC peers significantly, according to the “Shaping the Future of Luxury Travel” research report published recently by Amadeus.
- Does this alliance preclude Shangri-La from expanding in India or Taj from expanding in China?
No, there are no restrictions on where either group can develop and manage hotels.
- Will there be further announcements made in this alliance about more initiatives?
Warmer Welcomes is the only joint initiative from this alliance currently. Both hotels will continue to explore and develop similar non-competing alliances that will further enhance the same strategic customer-first philosophy; driving value to our members in their journey when they book and stay at our hotels.