Guest Opinion: A Final Goodbye to SPG. Spoiler alert: the owners and franchisees won!

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A LoyaltyLobby reader and a friend of mine, Neal R, sent us an opinion piece due to a recent interview that the new CEO of Marriott, Mr. Anthony Capuano, gave. He stated that Bonvoy is not as good as SPG but hoped that the guests have short memories.

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In December of 2017, the New York Times famously asked if “Marriott could keep Starwood’s Culture of Cool.” While the article focused on the ‘cool factor’ of wanting to be part of SPG and everything it stood for, Marriott has indeed slipped in some uncool decisions (Coke out – Pepsi in, Book of Mormon placed in nightstands, Sysco distributed/Chinese made ‘designer’ bathroom amenities, needing to call Marriott instead of business you used to be able to do online, exchange rate scams, and now using the pandemic as an excuse to reduce services and amenities permanently) the verdict on the core of the loyalty program was a little less clear as some SPG features (Suite night awards, 4 pm checkout, etc.) were indeed folded into Bonvoy with its huge global footprint.

Marriott even stressed that Starwood’s loyalty program was a big part of the acquisition, while former CEO Arne Sorenson described his surprise about how “rabid” SPG members were:

“Early on, the thing I didn’t appreciate that I should have was how rabid the SPG elites were about the program,” Sorenson said. “Maybe that shouldn’t have been that surprising.” But, for those “rabid” SPG members, that was indeed an early warning sign that Marriott’s intentions were either off or insincere.

Marriott CEO Sorensen’s Thoughts About SPG Members? Rabid!

Fast forward a few years, and we finally have a pretty clear verdict, directly from Marriott’s new CEO of all people.

In an interview with TPG, Anthony Capuano, Marriott’s new CEO, had enlightening comments on the loyalty program:

Marriott’s new CEO sat down with TPG to talk Bonvoy benefits, hot breakfast and more

“We get a bit of an incomplete,” he said. “I think we’ve made terrific progress. The integration of Marriott Rewards and SPG was a monumental task. And it’s quite interesting. You hear SPG loyalists say, ‘My goodness, what have you done to our program?’ The program was very guest-friendly. It was less owner-friendly.”

“What some of those SPG loyalists may have lost, a bit, in terms of the richness of the program, we hope that breadth of choice, whether it be brands or geography, is a bit of a mitigating factor,” Capuano said.
He also described customers’ “short memories” while also saying, “our owners and franchisees have borne a disproportionate weight, from the impact of the pandemic.”

I’m sure his PR people are doing damage control, and Mr. Capuano can now see how those two particular remarks come across as tone-deaf to the customers who pay his salary and give the owners and franchisees a reason to exist.

(This was on top of earlier comments John reported where Capuano lamented he was having trouble hiring staff since Amazon pays more.)

Marriott CEO Blames Amazon For Difficulty Hiring Employees

I’m not sure if a CEO is supposed to say those things aloud, but he did. And to many of us, it’s a relief. No more hoping Marriott will fix things, no more saying to ourselves that Marriott needs just a little more time to bring back more features from SPG. Instead, Marriott has finally admitted their contempt for customers through the CEO’s words, underscoring the lack of loyalty program transparency, the website/app that fails to disclose basics about rates, let alone the hotels current status of amenities (whats open vs. closed) on top of the less rewarding Bonvoy program.

Marriott seems to think its business model has to favor either owners and franchisees OR customers. It has clearly sided with the owners. That is too bad and ironic as Starwood seemed to thrive on the concept of making customers rabidly loyal, which in turn paved the way for success for its owners and franchisees. Perhaps the concept of having both succeed is just too “cool” for Marriott?

Neal R.

Original Member of SPG’s Ambassador Program & Bonvoy Lifetime Titanium and longtime Loyalty Lobby reader.

Conclusion (John’s Take)

At least it is crystal clear that Marriott CEO knows that its Bonvoy is not as good as SPG, but I believe that he is wrong with his belief that guests have amnesia.

Am I the only one who remembers when Marriott promised to introduce something soon when EEOs (Elite Executive Offers – free second weekend night benefit) were removed, or when they had one of the most extensive program devaluations a day after the voting for the Freddies ended?

Businesses that don’t put customers’ interests first can flourish for a while, but eventually, a competitor will emerge that will upend them. Unfortunately, there are very few businesses that last the test of time.

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) was an aspirational program with which many of its members had an emotional relationship that I thought was borderline irrational.

Is anyone even mildly excited about Marriott Bonvoy, its member benefits, or customer service?

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