My Conversation With Hyatt Hotel’s New Head Of Loyalty, Mark Vondrasek

A couple of weeks ago Hyatt announced that they had hired Mark Vondrasek as Executive Vice President, global head of loyalty & new business platforms.  It was interesting, in that it elevated the position of “head of loyalty” to a higher level.  Previously, the head of the loyalty program reported to the head of marketing.

Mark is a veteran of Starwood Hotels & Resorts where he spent 15 years crafting Starwood Preferred Guest.  At Starwood, he had a person on his team responsible for the day-to-day needs of the loyalty program.  Based on comments from Mark, we can expect a similar structure at Hyatt.

Due to some scheduling conflicts (my trip to Africa) my conversation with Mark happened after a lot of the other bloggers spoke with him.  That gave me the chance to ask different questions.  Because of some technical glitches, Mark and I ended up speaking twice.  In between our calls Hyatt announced their new partnership with Oasis, so I squeezed in a question in about that as well.  First, I’ve got the list of questions that I asked.  Then, I’ll cover Mark’s detailed responses.  Finally, I’ll add in my opinions (you had to see that coming).  Questions:

  • Has Mark Hoplamazian (Hyatt CEO) outlined his expectations?
  • What do you expect Marriott to do in the near future?  Should Hyatt be more or less rewarding than Marriott/SPG?
  • What do you expect from Jeff’s replacement?
  • Are there any areas where the staff said changes need to be made?
  • What do you see as the role of the Hyatt Visa credit card going forward?
Mark Hoplamazian’s Direction

Too many Mark’s!  Mark Vondrasek was quick to jump on an answer to this.  He said that Mark H. had directed him to “find the ceiling” of loyalty contribution.  Mark feels like his direction from the CEO is to run aggressively at elevating the loyalty program.  He also noted that he knew he wasn’t coming into a white canvas.  Mark V believes that the creation of this new role and the elevation of it signals the importance within the organization.

Mark’s Thoughts On Competitors And How Hyatt Will Answer

I asked Mark how he thought the merger with Marriott and SPG would affect Hyatt.  He noted that he thought SPG and Hyatt had similar DNA.  Mark made sure to note that he thought Hyatt needed to compete with the likes of Marriott and SPG.  He made a point to note that Hyatt needed to be competitive in the benefits they offer.

Mark also thinks that Hyatt needs to operate in a different lane, and that they’ve already begun to do so.  They need to work at cementing loyalty beyond the textbook definition of a hotel loyalty program.  Hyatt needs offers that “connect” with their loyal customers.  They need to continue being authentic, especially with acquisitions like Miraval and the focus on wellness.

Finally, Mark noted that they weren’t that far away from naming a person who would occupy the role of day-to-day operations for the loyalty program, and that we’d be happy with the name.  Which is a great segue to….

Mark’s Expectations For Jeff’s Replacement

For those just tuning in, I should probably clarify who Jeff is.  Jeff Zidell was the Senior VP in charge of loyalty for as long as I’ve been a Diamond/Globalist member with Hyatt.  He left recently.  He set the gold standard for me over the past decade when it came to defining loyalty.

To Mark, this role is one of the most critical roles in the entire organization.  They need to be a sounding board for members of the loyalty program.  Then, they need to, in a non-threatening way, communicate and advocate on that feedback to management while also being a great steward to owners and hotel staff.  These are all Mark’s words, not mine.  He was very specific about how important he views the position.

What Does The Staff Think About The State Of Loyalty At Hyatt

Mark did a good job pivoting away from what the staff thinks needs to be changed.  He said the staff is excited about the elevation of the loyalty program strategy to a higher level of management.  They have a positive view of the work in front of them.

Hyatt's New Head Of Loyalty

The Role Of The Hyatt Visa Going Forward

Credit cards have become such an important part of loyalty programs.  I was interested to hear Mark’s answer.  A brief aside here, I loved the answer Jeff gave when asked this question back during the launch of the Hyatt Visa.  When asked how the hotel chain planned to monetize their credit card through their membership, Jeff replied that they felt like the credit card was an extension of their program, a way to build loyalty with their customers.  That answer stood as a stark contrast to monetization efforts elsewhere.

According to Mark, customers who carry the Hyatt Visa are stickier.  That’s not terribly surprising.  He sees the credit card as a natural extension of their work cementing loyalty with their core customers.  When customers think about “unplugging” from the Hyatt brand, he hopes the benefits from the credit card make that decision harder for them to leave.

He used an interesting example where maybe a customer has a benefit to use a fitness center through their credit card partnership, which makes sense with the focus on wellness.  Mark hopes that every time they can execute well on a benefit like that, the customer feels “nobody else thinks about me that way.”

Bonus Round: Oasis

Oasis is the new vacation rental partnership that I referenced above.  It sounds like Mark has already been involved in conversations with the CEO of Oasis.  Mark said it’s very early days for the partnership but there have already been discussions about how to recognize different levels of the loyalty program with special benefits.  He also thinks that, similar to the MGM M Life partnership, there’s an opportunity for the Oasis partnership to be reciprocal with benefits for Oasis owners as well.

Hyatt's New Head Of Loyalty

Park Hyatt Vienna

The Final Two Pennies

As I mentioned, I got the benefit of seeing what other bloggers asked Mark before my call.  For most specific questions, the answers were pretty general (more wait and see than concrete information).  Here’s a pretty good synopsis of those conversations.

I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect from my phone call with Mark.  Ultimately I found him very frank and thoughtful with his answers.  I wasn’t asking him yes/no questions or about specific benefits, so that may have contributed to a very flowing conversation.  There were a few points that stuck out to me.

I think that’s an important early distinction that Mark said Hyatt needed to be competitive in the benefits they offer.  It would have been easy to say that they needed to be competitive.  But he was specific more than once, emphasizing that they needed to be competitive in the benefits they offer.  Maybe that’s a distinction without a difference.  We’ll see in the months to come where Hyatt is trying to match up with Marriott/SPG, Hilton, etc.

We’ve been known to have a focus on miles and points around these parts.  Hyatt hasn’t announced a promotion for the remainder of 2017, something they did earlier in 2016 for the remainder of that year.  Maybe that’s because of an absence of leadership in loyalty.  Maybe it’s a change in how they view promos.  Again, we’ll have to wait and see.

Mark spoke very specifically about this role of the day-to-day head of the loyalty program, and in an encouraging fashion.  His passion about the position sure sounds on point.  I do wonder when Mark says we’ll be happy with who they name whether that means we’ll see one of his previous employees, Chris Holdren (head of the SPG program for a number of years) jump into the mix at Hyatt.  I’ve also heard rumors that Thom Kozik from Marriott might be on the move.  Would Chris or Thom be a good addition to World of Hyatt?  Or, is a fresh perspective what’s needed?

Finally, Mark’s comments about the Hyatt Visa seem to jibe with Jeff Zidell’s philosophy when he was there.  If that philosophy continues it’s bound to be a positive for loyalty members who also hold the credit card.  We’ve consistently seen Hyatt reward credit cardholders with promotions that rebate points or allow access to key events.  Those are innovations I think Hyatt needs to continue emphasizing.

To Mark, World of Hyatt isn’t a white canvas.  But to loyal members of the Gold Passport and World of Hyatt programs, today is something of a blank slate.  Sure, we know what benefits to expect at the various tier levels.  I’m pretty happy at the top-tier, where folks in the lower tiers have been gnashing their teeth to some degree.  They’re looking to Mark (and who he hires in that key day-to-day role) to define what the next few years looks like.

Like many World of Hyatt members, I’m curious to see what’s next.

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  1. I can only hope he gets rid of this idiotic ‘World of Hyatt’. I’ll do 75 nights this year and 100% domestic…That’s NOT a world…That’s simply slogging it out on the road for too many nights each year. I still refer to myself as a diamond member and No ONE at Hyatt ever corrects me…Maybe they fell the same way…

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