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by Deanna Ting | September 03, 2014
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide announced today the debut of its newest B2B initiative, SPG Pro, a loyalty program specifically developed for both meeting and travel professionals. Set to debut next month, the new program will offer meeting planners and other travel professionals SPG elite status, upgrades, and Starpoints for booked B2B business, including meetings, events, corporate travel, and leisure/wholesale travel.

The new SPG Pro represents a major $30-million dollar investment in Starwood's B2B business, which represents nearly 70 percent of its overall room revenue worldwide. Starwood announced the launch of SPG Pro during its annual Global Rendezvous, the company's largest customer event, held this year at the Sheraton Boston Hotel, during which sales members from 88 different Starwood properties are hosting more than 250 of Starwood's top meetings, events, corporate travel, and travel agent clients.

Expanding upon the hotelier's already well-established Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, the new SPG Pro represents a more comprehensive view on rewarding customer loyalty, says Christie Hicks, senior vice president of Starwood Sales Organization. "To look at decision makers as an individual, travel professional, or meeting planner--looking at them in a more 360-degree way--makes the whole business aspect more personal," Hicks told Incentive's sister site SuccessfulMeetings.com.

SPG Pro lets individuals earn rewards for both leisure and B2B-related bookings with Starwood. With the new SPG Pro program, any SPG member who books a group stay, event, or corporate business meeting--regardless of whether he or she is classified as a meeting planner or travel professional--will also earn Starpoints and status for the business they bring to Starwood. Likewise, meeting planners who book personal stays with Starwood will also earn Starpoints as SPG Pro members. Today, SPG, which was launched 15 years ago, drives more than 50 percent of the company's occupancy worldwide.

"The most important differentiator is that this is a complete program," Hicks added. "We look at you as an individual, and take into consideration the different roles you play in your life. It combines, group, leisure, transient, and corporate. And it's also about recognition and creating loyalty, exposing you to different educational offerings, and giving you access to data and information. The technology behind this is new and built from the ground up.

"This is a great opportunity for us to connect the dots and be more personalized with all of our customers," said Hicks. "A third of our SPG members are influencing bigger business deals and we haven't tapped that yet. And on the B2B side, we're picking up the individual treatment. On the individual travel side, we were not rewarding them for their business decisions as well."

According to Mark Vondrasek, Starwood senior vice president of distribution, loyalty, and partnership marketing, 34 percent of SPG's elite Platinum guests are senior executives, business consultants, and small business owners who also book meetings and events. "By rewarding business like corporate off sites, product launches or even personal events like weddings or bar mitzvahs, we build greater stickiness with our loyal guests, who in turn become an extension of our sales team," he noted.   

Added Christie, "Guests and customers are the same person, but they behave differently depending on the day of the week or their activities. For example, how often do we go someplace for business but end up staying for pleasure? We want to make sure we take advantage of that blend. How often do you influence decisions at your company? We need to recognize those decisions."

The new SPG Pro replaces Starwood's previous meeting and travel professional program, Starwood Preferred Planner, and will also apply globally to Starwood's nearly 1,200 hotel properties worldwide.  Meeting planners can immediately register for SPG Pro at http://www.spg.com/pro. Registered professionals, as well as SPG Members who influence group, event and corporate travel, will begin earning Starpoints for business booked starting in October 2014.

To announce the debut of SPG Pro, Starwood is also embarking on its largest and most expensive B2B marketing campaign in the company's history. The new lifestyle campaign, shot by noted photographer Jim Franco, depicts a day in the life of various meeting and event planners at work, and will be used in SPG Pro communications, collateral, and online and trade magazine advertising.