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This afternoon I got the chance to chat with the new Hyatt Executive Vice President, Global Head of Loyalty & New Business Platforms, Mark Vondrasek. His new position will now report directly to the Hyatt President and CEO and will lead not only the World of Hyatt loyalty program but also the wellness initiatives such as Miraval and exhale.
Okay, first things first, Mark comes from a 15-year stint at Starwood, where his last role was senior vice president and commercial services officer where he was responsible for the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program, among many other important things. I didn’t ever have any contact with him there as his level was above that which I ever had dealings with, but I think most of us generally have a good connotation with Starwood and the loyalty driven decisions they have made for their members. In other words, he’s coming from friendly territory as far as miles and points fans are concerned.
I’ve been at this a number of years now, but I’m not familiar with many new heads of loyalty that have spent a very large chunk of their first day on the phone with folks like me from the miles and points world talking and listening. Even if he hadn’t taken the time to chat with me personally, I still would consider that a very good sign.
Not surprisingly, on the first afternoon of Day 1, there aren’t a lot of specifics that he is going to be able to share about the direction of the Hyatt loyalty program. However, he did listen to some of the concerns I brought up on behalf of those who read the site regarding the direction Hyatt has taken this year, especially for those who are not road warriors staying 60+ paid nights in a Hyatt each year.
He did share that they will be hiring a head of the World of Hyatt program and said that they are going to move quickly to get someone in place in that role. He said that he was excited to expand on exploring how you redefine loyalty both in and out of the stay. There was an emphasis on the wellness-oriented activities and brands, so expect to see increased wellness oriented offerings from Hyatt whether it is complimentary sunrise yoga, or making work-out gear available, or something else entirely, I have no clue on how that will come to life, but I think that there will be a wellness emphasis for the loyalty program and its members.
And frankly, as a 36-going-on-37-year-old who is finding that they have to make more time for health and mindfulness, I’m all for it.
The other directional sneak peek he was able to provide was that his intention is to focus on really listening to the pain points from World of Hyatt members and solve for them whether they are IT related, or mid-tier elite related, and so on. Now I’m sure that anyone at his level would say that on Day One, but I’ll drink the Hyatt flavored Kool-Aid and believe it for now, because that is exactly how he spent much of his first day on the job.
I really personally like Hyatt, and ever since I first redeemed my points for a stay at Hyatt Lost Pines with our then first-born toddler many years ago, I was hooked. My family has grown-up with the backdrop of Hyatt properties on our adventures and I really want for that to continue not only for my family but for other families to come. I love that there is currently a realistic pathway towards creating an otherwise unaffordable family vacation at a top-tier Hyatt Resort through points, whether those points come from work travel or from rewards credit cards.
It is understood that a good loyalty program has to make sense for the company as well as the member, so we can’t all be given a presidential suite for our giraffe and a helicopter landing pad on every stay (watch this if that makes no sense, though it isn’t really work-appropriate). So while perks and benefits have to have their limits, there are ways a loyalty program can be very rewarding both for members and stakeholders, and that is what I hope for Hyatt in the years to come.
I also hope that award nights will count towards elite status, that IT bugs will get fixed, that the properties that are playing games with award availability will hop in line (cough, Andaz Maui), that mid-tier elites will see some glamour return to their travels, that top tier benefits like waived award fees on paid stays, complimentary space-available suite upgrades, and waived parking charges on award stays, will be delivered without a prolonged negotiation at the front desk, that you won’t have to contact a person at Hyatt to use a suite upgrade or lounge award, and that the Hyatt Credit Card will up its game to be a better choice for racking up Hyatt points than other non-Hyatt credit cards. Is that all too much to ask?
Seriously though, I was very sad when I learned that the former head of Hyatt’s loyalty program, Jeff Zidell, was no longer in that role several months ago, but I will remain cautiously optimistic that Mark Vondrasek and whoever he hires to directly head the World of Hyatt program will do what is needed to retain the many strengths of the program and shore up some of the cracks it has developed along the way.
What would you like to see from the next iteration of the World of Hyatt?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.