Global Hotel Alliance (GHA), a player in the hotel loyalty programme business, has set its sights on India's booming travel market. The UAE-based company also expects hotel loyalty programmes to consolidate over the next ten years, with artificial intelligence (AI) playing a major role in data mining and creating more accurate customer preferences.

The company which works with independent hotel chains such as The Leela, Kempinski, Park Royal, Pan Pacific, Tivoli, and others, is looking to partner with more and more Indian hotel companies to capture a share of the country's 80 million projected international travellers by 2040.

Globally, the company has tie-ups with 40 brands with over 800 hotels across 100 countries.

GHA's chief executive officer Christopher Hartley, who was in India recently, told Mint that its existing partnerships with Indian chains like The Leela, Araiya, and the Oaks brand generated $68 million in revenue in 2023, a majority of which came from The Leela.

Moreover, its Indian members spent $60 million in hotel revenues in India and around the world in the same year, up 46% year-on-year and surpassing the 2019 total of $41 million. This was evenly split between domestic and international travel.

Hartley says hotels need loyalty programmes to build direct relationships with guests by creating a positive experience and offering rewards.

The classic loyalty programmes reward guests with points for every stay and purchase. These points can then be redeemed for free nights, upgrades, or other perks. Points programmes can encourage direct bookings rather than using discounting platforms like online travel agencies.

GHA is actively seeking new Indian partners, particularly midmarket and smaller chains as well as independent owners who struggle to compete with larger loyalty programmes. Potential collaborations with airlines such as Air India and local banks could also be on the cards to expand the base further, the company feels.

Anantara Hotels & Resorts, which will be making its Indian debut this year, will open a property in Jaipur and it is planning to Global Hotel Alliance. The alliance will continue to expand its global reach.

Hartley said there could also be a major shakeup in the loyalty programme landscape.

"Over the next decade, we'll see consolidation into 5-10 major players. There could also be an emergence of ‘super apps’ that will cater to travellers' entire needs, allowing them to book flights, hotels, activities, and more within a single platform," Hartley said.

“Globally, a lot of lifestyle brands with loyalty programmes of their own actually link into larger hotel brands' loyalties at the back end. We are seeing the likes of Hyatt, Accor, Marriott and others adding brands to their portfolios to build their stables. So, what I think we will end up with from a 10-year view is that there will probably be five to 10 major hospitality loyalty programmes," he explained.

These apps will likely also leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to mine customer data and create more accurate profiles and eliminate duplication. This will mean that a hotel will know a person's preferences far better now, Hartley added.

He has observed the trend of the business traveller in the last decade and especially more so after the pandemic because companies no longer want to spend that kind of money in sending employees on expensive trips.

"The world has sort of turned on its head. We now need volumes that are generated by business travellers. But we also need an array of leisure hotels that appeal to those very business travellers. This is primarily because companies are less willing to pay high prices for business travel now because of the sheer volumes of employees they need to send out," Hartley said.

“While the business class executive is only spending $150-200 a night for work trips, they are spending up to $1,000 a night on leisure rooms now," he added.

In 2022, European NH Hotel Group, which owns brands like NH Hotels, NH Collection, nhow, Tivoli, Anantara, Avani, Elewana and Oaks, joined the Global Hotel Alliance significantly boosting its size with 350 properties in 30 countries.

Later in 2023, GHA signed a collaboration with ultra-luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas Cruises. More recently, it also inked a partnership with vacation rental platform Plum Guide in March 2024.

Varuni Khosla