I spoke with Mark Vondrasek, Hyatt’s new head of loyalty (and ‘business platforms’), this afternoon. Vondrasek’s primary experience is as a Starwood executive overseeing loyalty and other functions.
Readers have several questions about how Hyatt is going to become competitive below the top tier (this is a common sentiment among people who used to earn top tier based on 25 stays a year). There are also questions about short expiring free nights in the new program, and that suite upgrades expire 12 months from when they’re earned making it tough to upgrade winter bookings far in advance.
Sky check-in lobby of the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
There’s only so much that the new head of loyalty is going to say on day one. So the most important thing isn’t anything that he said, but what Hyatt has done in making and structuring this hire.
- The status quo at Hyatt is represented by Chief Marketing Officer Maryam Banikarim. She’s the senior marketing executive and she remained when Jeff Zidell left in May.
- Mark Vondrasek will report directly to Hyatt’s CEO not to the CMO
While that doesn’t in and of itself guarantee a different direction, it means that the program is freed up to have a new direction or at least fresh thinking. And though publicly Hyatt has claimed that World of Hyatt is doing well, I’ve suggested that what reasons they’ve given for that belief don’t add up. The structure of this hire tell me they may not be fully convinced themselves.
Park Hyatt Hadahaa Maldives
Here, though, are the important takeaways from my conversation.
- This was Mark’s first day on the job, though of course he’s spent time looking at and thinking about the program to get to today. He already knows there’s a member issue with elite status qualification. He said he isn’t going to reset how elite status is earned “by the time I leave today” but his priority is “listening and understanding what’s working and the challenges” and ensuring that he “listens to and understands what matters to members.”
- He’s not running the day-to-date. The program reports up to him, but he’ll be hiring a Senior Vice President for loyalty who would be thought of as the “Jeff replacement”
- His context at this point comes from Starwood, so he knows about the member focus groups they did, the process of rolling out benefits. And he likes continually offering more to members who stay more (Starwood added 50, 75 and 100 night benefits for Platinums but without taking Platinum status away from those staying 25 times) and he likes doing that below the top tier, too. He doesn’t want members to hit a goal and then leave.
- His role is head of loyalty and business platforms so I asked what those are. The new investments Hyatt has made in Miraval, Exhale, and its minority investment in sharing economy company Oasis Collection report up to him.
Oasis is expected to eventually be integrated into loyalty and distribution at Hyatt, and the Miraval and Exhale brands are plays to integrate “wellness, mindfulness, and being the best you” as part of Hyatt’s offerings across their hotel portfolios. That should mean more experiential offerings, which is something Starwood was good at. (At a minimum think “Westin Workout Powered By Reebok” but here Hyatt owns their version of Reebok.)
- He sees loyalty as crucial to winning business because, like with Starwood, Hyatt lacks scale of Marriott and Hilton. “It’s an incredibly competitive space” so they have to do more.
Top tier elite room service breakfast at the Park Hyatt Vendome Paris
While we know that Chase and Hyatt are considering updating their credit card now that they’ve re-signed as partners Mark hasn’t had meetings yet on the co-brand card so wasn’t prepared to answer specific questions there.
It’s only his first day, and he still plans to hire the day to day lead, but so far he’s got a free hand, wants to listen to members, has a charge to integrate Hyatt’s offerings with their new lifestyle brand acquisitions, and plans to draw on his experiences at Starwood.