Dining is part and parcel of the travel experience, with many people now drawn towards destinations based on their food culture and cuisine. 

Thanks to the rise of food tourism, an increasing number of hotels are launching dining experiences of their own. Whether it’s an in-house event or a partnership with third-party food brands – the aim is to increase loyalty and create a seamless experience for customers.

So, what are hotels doing, and will it work? Here are a few examples.

InterContinental Hotels partners with OpenTable and GrubHub

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) – the owner of Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and many other big hotel chains – recently announced a partnership with OpenTable and Grubhub to launch a new food and drink loyalty programme. 

The idea of the scheme is that IHG loyalty members can earn points whenever they make a restaurant reservation via OpenTable or order a takeout from GrubHub to be delivered to their hotel. 

To earn points, members must use an IHG channel to book or order, such as its app, website, or hotel WiFi.

So how is it different to other food-based loyalty programmes? While traditional ones might merely reward members for using the in-hotel restaurant or dining out in select restaurants, IHG is giving its members much more choice, allowing them to choose any restaurant on OpenTable or order whatever they want from GrubHub. 

The clever part is that the loyalty programme is pretty much guaranteed to generate engagement. After all, eating is both a daily habit and a social experience, meaning that members are likely to use and enjoy the programme regardless of why they’re travelling or what their personal circumstances are. Naturally, they’re also likely to look favourably on the hotel group for rewarding them for partaking in the activity.

In turn, IHG is able to play a much bigger role for members, having a direct impact on their travel experience even when they’re out and and spending their money elsewhere.

Wyndham's recipes and grocery deliveries

Rewards are one of the biggest benefits for business travellers, with regular travel allowing people to rack up a large number of points.

Extended-stay services are another way hotels aim to increase value for corporate travellers, offering extra facilities such as laundry amenities and fully-equipped kitchens.

In order to take this one step further, last year Wyndham Suites launched a new programme for extended-stay guests called ‘Homemade @ Hawthorn’. It involves an exclusive selection of recipes designed by well-known chefs, as well as the ability to order groceries from on-demand companies like Instacart in order to create them.

While the programme is not ground-breaking - guests already have access to kitchens as well as nearby grocery stores.

However, with recipes and delivery services being made readily available, convenience and comfort levels are increased, making guests feel like the hotel is a ‘home away from home’.

Marriott's new combined loyalty scheme

Marriott Rewards is well-known to be one of the best and most popular hotel loyalty programmes, reportedly garnering around 75m members. Dining is already integral to its success, as like many others it offers members the chance to earn points by dining. 

Earlier this year, however, it decided to step up its game, launching the new ‘Club Marriott’ scheme in Hong Kong – combining Club Marriott, Eat Drink & More, and Star Privilege into one mega-loyalty scheme.

It is similar to IHG in a way as it aims to give members greater choice. However, instead of using third-party companies, it has partnered with more than 250 participating Marriot hotels in 13 countries, with each one positioning their own dining experiences and concepts to showcase restaurants. 

In this sense, it doesn’t only use dining to reward members, but as an incentive to choose Marriott in the first place. With each bar and restaurant having its own unique identity (in terms of name and the dining experience it offers) – the chain is arguably more known for being a place to meet, eat and drink rather than merely sleep. 

Shangri-La surprise and delights (using social media)

Finally, Shangri-La’s food loyalty programme, ‘The Table’, focuses much more on dining as an emotive experience. Unlike the aforementioned examples, which tend to use discounts and rewards, it gives guests memorable dining experiences to drive loyalty.

There are rewards in the traditional sense, with 500 participating restaurants allowing members to earn points and redeem them. However, the scheme is also an online tool to allow consumers to find a restaurant or bar suited to their specific needs.

On the Table digital hub, users can search restaurants based on categories like ‘elegant’, ‘intimate’, and ‘upbeat’. Meanwhile, the site also emphasises dining as a highly social event, integrating social media feeds to allow members to share their own experiences.

Shangri-La’s loyalty programme is one of the most customer-centric, basing ‘The Table’ on the results of a survey of more than 3,000 of its existing loyalty members. Interestingly, elements of surprise and delight were found to be more important than discounts, with 56%% saying unique dining experiences would bring guests back to a restaurant. 

In conclusion….

While dining can undoubtedly be a social experience within the context of travel, at a basic level, it’s also a daily habit. IHG and Wyhndam tap into this, giving members greater convenience (and loyalty incentives) no matter where or how they want to eat. In contrast, both Marriott and Shangri-La use the emotive and social aspects of food, offering them memorable and immersive experiences to drive loyalty.

When it comes to choosing a hotel, food and drink might not be a key incentive. However, when it comes to re-booking or becoming a loyal member, these examples show that it is certainly a key driver.

Related reading:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 22 November, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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