Inner Circle

Loyalty Revisited

Yeoh Siew Hoon caught up with Wee Kee Ng of Shangri-La to talk about brand loyalty.

Loyalty Revisited
The partnership makes sense...Both brands are traditional rooted, with a strong culture of hospitality and service.

My three dogs have taught me something about loyalty. To them, love is unconditional and loyalty unstinting. But we humans are different - some of us are more loyal than others and our loyalty is conditional, based on many factors.

In the workplace, we are loyal to our colleagues. It is said that people leave people, not companies.

As travellers though, what are we loyal to? Brand, price or convenience?

When it comes to brand loyalty, is a few dollars’ worth of saving so important? Would we rather stick to a brand that makes it so much more convenient for us to do business with? Or someone who looks after us so much better that we’re prepared to pay more for the experience? 

I was having this discussion over a dim sum and noodle breakfast at Café TOO in Island Shangri-La with Wee Kee Ng, the man who manages the Golden Circle loyalty programme for Shangri-La.

Ng’s been in the role for more than a decade and has seen the concept of travel loyalty programmes evolve from his days in the airline business to hospitality. He has a very clear idea of where he wants the Golden Circle programme to go.

In a nutshell, he wants “personalisation of the customer experience using technology to find the right insights for the right customer to create the right experience”. 

“The way we talk and communicate must be simple and effective,” he says. “We used to say, you will get this if… it was all very conditional.

“Now we want to keep it simple, improving our processes so that members can easily communicate with us and enjoy the benefits.”

To put it simply, if you are a member travelling to Hong Kong on business, you should enjoy a different experience from when you’re staying at the Rasa Ria Resort in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

“The recognition should be different,” says Ng, “because your needs are different.” 

To broaden its scope, Golden Circle partners with like-minded travel companies, for example, Singapore Airlines, which allows members to double dip on points – a benefit members are enjoying greatly, says Ng.

In March this year, it joined hands with the Taj Hotels to create Warmer Welcomes, a programme integrating Shangri-La’s Golden Circle and Taj’s InnerCircle.

The partnership makes sense. Shangri-La is strong in China and Southeast Asia while Taj is focused on building a strong portfolio in India, where Shangri-La only has two hotels. Both brands are traditional rooted, with a strong culture of hospitality and service.

The two loyalty programmes are now fully integrated which means you only have to manage one to benefit from two. A month into the launch, Ng is already encouraged by the response from members. 

“The first week after launch saw more than 2,000 mutual members link their profiles and the equal conversion - about 20,000 points were converted each way in the first week – means people like it,” says Ng.

Golden Circle has 5.2 million members and Taj 1 million members; Shangri-La has 97 hotels, Taj 100. Warmer Welcomes has allowed two mid-sized companies to scale and create an ecosystem that is more compelling for members.

So back to the emphasis on customer experience – the group is now making it a core focus of what it does.

“Because,” as Ng says, “if prices are the same, who do you choose? You choose the service or programme that most suits or benefits you. Loyalty is the differentiator.”

The morning before, for a completely different experience, I had breakfast at Petrus with Island Shangri-La’s general manager Franz Donhauser, on the 56th floor of the hotel. 

As I enjoyed the delicately-prepared soft poached eggs with sustainable cod, I gazed out over the Hong Kong harbour and thought to myself: what an experience. You don’t get breakfast like this every morning.

Which goes to show that, really, just like any other human being, my loyalty is conditional – feed me well, put me in a nice place and I am as happy as a pooch. 

 Learn more about Warmer Welcomes Back to Heart Talk 

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