A decade ago Preferred Hotel Group, a sales and marketing group representing independent luxury and upper upscale hotels was considered by many in the travel industry a lost cause. Members were leaving. Others said that advances in technology had made the model irrelevant.
Enter travel industry legend John Ueberroth (brother of the former Major League Baseball Commissioner), his wife Gail, their daughter Lindsey and son Casey.
What a difference a decade makes. Having more than doubled member properties, added brands and being on the cutting edge of developing experiential travel programs, Preferred has been gaining flagship hotels at a Hall of Fame clip.
During ITB Berlin, the world’s largest travel trade fair, Lindsey who was appointed CEO in February talked to Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan.
Elite Traveler: What did you do to celebrate the 10-year milestone?
Lindsey Ueberroth: It was actually yesterday. We did nothing to celebrate which was pretty sad (laughs) except a few drinks at the bar and getting ready to work here at the show. It’s been an exciting 10 years.
ET: Tell us about the past 10 years?
LU: Ten years ago we had less than 300 hotels and eight offices, fast forward 10 years and we have 650 hotels, six brands nearly 40 sales offices and close to 300 associates. We’ve launched the first points based loyalty program for independent hotels iPrefer, Preferred Golf, Preferred Pride, a collection of TAG approved or IGLTA member hotels, Preferred Family and really focused on the experience side of what the world traveler wants.
ET: Most companies are just getting around to the experience focus. How was Preferred so far ahead of the curve?
LU: It’s partially because that’s how our family likes to travel. You either say I want to go here, or you say we want to do this, where can we get that experience, or you want to attend a sporting event with a group of people. That’s how people book travel so we built our programs around that.
ET: Do you have any more innovations in this area?
LU: In the next year you’re going to see a complete evolution on how we serve that up to the customer. The concept of really focusing on the customer experience is going to be the point for us. Right now we are still in the planning process, but it relates to both the booking process and when the consumer gets to the hotel.
ET: How has what luxury customers want changed?
LU: It has moved away from the white glove hovering over you type luxury to something more subtle. It’s doing the little things that make the stay more memorable. For example, at The Montage, you’re sitting at the pool and they come around with a frozen fruit sticks and then a bit later a smoothie. The bottle of wine in my room I could care less about. They knew my dog had stayed there before and they knew what the gift they gave him last time so this time they gave him something different. It’s a very personalized approach.
ET: How does your loyalty program iPrefer work?
LU: For every dollar you spend you get a point. What we’ve done is set very transparent values. For every $2,500 you spend you get a $50 certificate. With any participating hotel you can use it for your room, spa or golf. You can gift them. We’ve also created a tier status based on stays, and when you get to Platinum you earn points faster.
ET: How would you like people to see Preferred?
LU: I would love for us to be considered the champion of the independent hotels for very high-end leisure to upper upscale for corporate travel. We are going to have a hotel with that one of a kind independent hotel experience for whatever your needs are. We are trying to position Preferred Hotel Group as an iconic place for a great collection of independent hotels.
ET: And is Preferred a resource for readers who are planning meetings?
LU: We’ve got phenomenal hotels for groups. We have great hotels for retreats, board meetings and incentives. We have an internal sales team that works with consumers who need help planning meetings. If you’re not an expert on planning meetings we are your advocate. We also have a website PHGmeetings.com where you can fill in all your criteria and it filters it down to the hotels and sends your request to the hotels and copies our salespeople who can then help you.
ET: What’s your plan for the next 10 years?
LU: I don’t have a crystal ball, but we want to continue to grow the company. It’s not necessarily the number of hotels, but we still can easily hit 1,000 hotels. The goal is to have the best hotels in the best places. We want to have programs that mean something to the travelers and also benefit our hotel partners. We want to make it easy for them.
ET: Multigenerational family travel is hot. Anything going on in this area?
LU: Later this year we’re going to launch a weddings and celebrations program. Today friends and families don’t have just a dinner party. They travel. It’s with groups of people. It’s not a business trip, but you still have all the moving parts. It’s a gathering of people so we’re trying to create really fun packages that say come celebrate with us.
ET: Any other trends?
LU: We’re seeing a lot of our luxury hotels adding more suites and villas. We hear a lot of hotels saying they are selling out (current inventory), and that’s a great problem to have because it used to be you would use suites for upgrades.