With a string of new hotel openings throughout Asia Pacific and the recent launch of an all-new loyalty scheme for meeting and travel professionals, the hotel group is sharpening its focus on the business events sector.  By Lauren Arena

“Loyalty is important,” Starwood’s senior vice president of sales in Asia Pacific, Alison Taylor, said when the group first announced its latest global initiative for meetings and events.

“We take our B2B network very seriously.”

So much so that the international luxury hotel group recently launched SPG Pro, a loyalty scheme specifically for the MICE market.

SPG Pro officially kicked off on October 15 and combines the existing B2B loyalty schemes Starwood Preferred Planner, Starchoice, and Starwood Pro across all 1200 Starwood properties globally.

The new program will offer meeting and travel professionals all the benefits of the group’s renowned  Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) consumer loyalty scheme, along with elite member status, upgrades and ‘starpoints’ for B2B business booked.

The introduction of the $30 million SPG Pro program is a clear indication the group – a leader in the luxury consumer travel market – is now looking to increase its market share in the business events sector and cash in on the meetings boom that’s sweeping the Asia Pacific thanks to the Asian Century.

The B2B market currently accounts for nearly 70 per cent of Starwood’s overall room revenue and includes corporate travel, meetings and events, and leisure and wholesale travel.

“Our top one per cent of customers delivers 40 per cent of B2B revenue,” Ms Taylor said, pointing to trends of smaller, more high-end meetings.

“Sixty per cent of our MICE business is now 60 rooms of less, 10 years ago it was only 30 per cent, and it’s driven by the fact that people can communicate in other ways to educate the masses. Now meetings are considered as a way to get decisions made, rather than big education forums.

“The size of incentives, however, is increasing and our luxury groups business is really doing well.

“In Asia Pacific, luxury MICE is a trend we’ve really noticed in the last 18 months.

“We’re also seeing a surge in high-end board meetings, particularly with the St Regis brand, as corporates are looking for that really high-end level of service.”

Another trend that’s gaining pace in the region is shorter lead time when booking meetings.

“Booking lead times have shortened significantly and now in China more than 10 per cent of our total business books on the day of arrival,” Ms Taylor said.

“In the Asian and South Asian markets, planning is generally shorter, but more mature markets like Japan and Australia still prefer a longer lead time and may still book six months to a year out. Generally throughout the region, pick-up is usually between two weeks to three months.”

Starwood is the largest luxury operator in the Asia Pacific, with 276 hotels currently operating, 131 being built, and 209 in the pipeline.

China, of course, is the hotel group’s largest and most promising market with 136 properties currently operating throughout Greater China and 109 on the way.

“China is huge for us and the day banquet business is significant.

“China is currently our largest market and it’s also the biggest growth market, followed by India, Indonesia, and Korea.

“The Thai market is also excellent for us and very high-end. We have experienced a downturn recently due to the political unrest, and group bookings have really suffered, but it’s a resilient market and we’re expecting it will rebound quickly.

“The agility of business today is incredible.”

For more information about SPG Pro, visit spg.com/pro