InterContinental Hotels Group officials hope to see greater interest in both IHG’s legacy brands and Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants after the two sides merge loyalty programs in early 2018.
SAN FRANCISCO—It’s been almost three years since InterContinental Hotels Group officials announced its acquisition of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, but the two entities are now taking one of the largest steps in merging their platforms with today’s announcement that Kimpton’s loyalty program will now fall under the umbrella of the IHG Rewards Club.
“We’ve taken great care to protect what’s so unique about the Kimpton DNA,” said Susanna Freer Epstein, SVP of global customer loyalty marketing for IHG. “And we think this is a way for us to level IHG’s global scale and platforms.”
She said the merger will seek to retain the best elements of the Kimpton Karma loyalty program, but members of that program will be automatically enrolled in IHG rewards in early 2018. At the same time, IHG Rewards Club members will now be able to redeem and earn points at Kimpton properties, which was not previously the case.
“We want to offer all our members one program with one single membership,” Freer Epstein said. “And we will be offering greater benefits with both personal relationships and global relationships.”
Kathleen Reidenbach, chief commercial officer for Kimpton, said the most popular features of Kimpton’s loyalty programs, including cocktails for members, spa credits and the invitation-only elite tier “Inner Circle” program, will be preserved in the transition.
“We knew we wanted to maintain that as part of the Kimpton experience for our most loyal guests,” she said.
The ownership perspective
Reidenbach said her company has been in close contact with Kimpton owners about the transition, and there seems to be a sense of optimism about the change.
“I think the benefits of joining the rewards clubs together are going to be significant for ownership,” she said. “It gives us the ability to introduce brands to a whole new world of members and for us to meet new needs for the membership base.”
She said a higher variety of destination and simpler redemption options will bring more users into the loyalty ecosystem, which will ultimately translate to more guests at Kimpton and IHG properties. At the same time, she said Kimpton officials were careful to keep their own stamp on the experience to deliver what long-term brand loyalists have grown to expect from them.
“We like to describe it as ‘Delivered by Kimpton, powered by IHG,’” Reidenbach said. “This is a significant step in that direction. We’re able to tap into the breadth of technology and the strength of the (IHG) loyalty program while at the same time delivering the heartfelt care that Kimpton loyalists have enjoyed for many years.”
Freer Epstein said the merged loyalty platform is the culmination of lots of work at the brand level, and she agrees it should bear fruit for those who invest in any of IHG’s brands.
“The intention from the onset (with the acquisition of Kimpton) was to bring the best-loved boutique brand to destinations around the world while delivering long-term benefits to all our stakeholders,” she said. “There have been collaborations on all areas of the business in order to lay a firm foundation for growth. We’ve been very careful to make sure we’re preserving the unique style and culture (of Kimpton) in bringing these loyalty programs together.”
She said owners will see growth as consumers realize the benefits of greater choice in the loyalty platform.
“This is really about bringing the breadth (of the program) to our owners and members, so there’s an experience for each occasion,” Freer Epstein said. “I think everyone is excited for this new phase.”
How the merger will work
IHG officials laid out some specifics for how the transition will work, including that all Kimpton Karma members will be automatically enrolled in IHG Rewards Club.
Members who are transferred over will be given matching status, and Kimpton’s Inner Circle—the invitation-only highest tier—will become a subset of IHG Rewards Club’s highest tier, Spire Elite. Inner Circle members will now require earning Spire status and an invitation. Current Inner Circle members will be grandfathered in at the transition for 2018 but must re-earn the distinction in 2019.
Freer Epstein also noted the merged program will open up more loyalty members to different ways to earn points through third-party partnerships.
One of the key differences between the two programs is that Kimpton Karma is based on earned rewards nights, while IHG Rewards Club is centered on points accrual. IHG officials said they will continue to honor all Kimpton Karma reward nights, and the nights earned will be translated to points in the IHG Rewards Club.