Since joining Preferred Hotels & Resorts in 2004, Lindsey Ueberroth, the President and CEO, has been integral in shaping the company’s image as an iconic global hospitality brand. She sat down to talk to Benbria about the company’s recent rebranding, the evolution of technology in luxury travel, and her tips for offering guests an exceptional experience.
Q: When your family purchased the company in 2004, it was in a very different place in terms of size and brand presence. What are the most significant decisions your family made that allowed for this growth?
It has been a busy 12 years! First and foremost, my family is driven by our life-long passion for travel. This natural affinity, coupled with an ability to anticipate emerging and growing trends, has helped us identify opportunities presented by key markets and destinations to create programs and partnerships that would give us a competitive edge. While there have been many developments that have helped us achieve our position as the world’s largest independent hotel brand, the two most significant decisions in the past three years have been the launch of the points-based iPrefer and our rebranding.
While iPrefer debuted with soft benefits in 2006, we transformed it in August 2013 with a new structure featuring points and became the first global points-based loyalty program for independent hotels. This evolution was critical to the success of our brand’s growth because it helped current member properties better compete with their hard-brand neighbors and gave owners who demanded a turn-key points-based loyalty program a fresh, new option. iPrefer has been the catalyst behind many hotels joining our portfolio over the past three years — both new builds and properties de-flagging from a hard-brand with Preferred as their partner — and it allowed us to generate more revenue for participating properties by promoting the program’s attractive promise of points and instant benefits.
I would say that our decision to rebrand the company from Preferred Hotel Group to Preferred Hotels & Resorts in March 2015 has been the most significant decision we have made as a family to ensure the longevity of the Preferred brand for decades to come.
Q: What was the catalyst for this rebranding? How has it impacted Preferred Hotels & Resorts and your member hotels?
The rationale was driven by evolving consumer expectations and changing travel trends. We realized that becoming more consumer-facing was vital to the future success of our company and our hotel partners worldwide. At a time when all of the major chains were launching new brands to address specific demographics, we did the reverse. In March 2015, we moved to one master brand, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, and realigned all of our member hotels into one of five collections, each catering to a distinct type of travel experience. This move created stronger brand clarity and greater awareness of our world-class portfolio of independent hotels and resorts.
The direct impact on our member hotels has been enhanced global exposure through our new streamlined, comprehensive brand platforms that include one website; one common GDS chain code; one consumer magazine, Preferred Travel; and a variety of advertising and social media initiatives that promote #ThePreferredLife, our brand campaign that inspires travelers to pursue and share authentic, memorable travel moments.
The rebranding supported our company’s goals in many facets, but the largest indicators of its success could be summed up in two major statistics: first, we marked a major milestone by generating more than $1 billion ($1.011B) in reservations revenue on behalf of our member hotels worldwide for the first time in our 48-year history; and second, we welcomed 91 new properties across 35 countries who were attracted to our model and innovative approach to meeting the needs of today’s travelers.
The momentum has continued to grow this year, and we have several exciting developments as part of phase two of our rebranding launching soon.
Q: At a time when there is more competition than ever in the hospitality industry, a lot of hoteliers grapple with the task of keeping existing guests loyal and bringing in new guests. What are your tips for hoteliers looking to offer their guests an exceptional experience?
It is all about personalization and the random acts of thoughtfulness that show guests they are valued beyond a generic welcome amenity. Hoteliers should focus on taking the time to notice and execute on the little things that are personal to their guests, whether that’s having their favorite snacks pre-stocked as an amenity, putting a framed photo of their family next to their bedside, or, in a city where language might be an issue, helping the guest order their favorite dish at a local restaurant to ensure they are not disappointed. Those small gestures go a long way with keeping an individual hotel experience top of mind and having stories of that stay live on through word of mouth and other organic referrals, which can turn the first-time guest into a repeat customer and a top referrer of business.
Q: Preferred Hotels & Resorts is very selective about the hotels it allows to join its membership ranks. What standards do hotels have to meet to remain a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts? Why is it so important that hoteliers live up to those standards?
Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ development team takes great measures in advance of signing any prospective hotel to ensure it is a good candidate for our brand and one that can be matched to one of our five distinct collections. Rather than focusing on traditional guidelines such as a maximum or minimum number of rooms, the Preferred Hotels & Resorts Collection Criteria is based on the guest experience offered by a hotel and the respective position it holds within the market it serves. Our Collection Criteria are comprised of multiple touch points with emphasis on those that have the greatest impact on guest satisfaction such as staff response, cleanliness, dining options, amenities, and location.
Once a hotel is admitted to the Preferred Hotels & Resorts brand and assigned to a specific collection, it becomes subject to our Integrated Quality Assurance program, which aggregates daily consumer review scores with periodic site inspections to ensure continuous compliance. We take our Collection Criteria very seriously because it’s important that our loyal guests can count on a consistently unique, authentic experience that delivers on our brand promise of luxury — whatever that means to the traveler on each specific travel occasion — upon every stay at any of our 650 member hotels worldwide.
Q: Going forward, how do you think the luxury hotel business will evolve — particularly with regards to new technology?
Luxury hotels will embrace new technology where it enhances the guest experience or brings efficiencies to back of the house. We are seeing that front of house changes are catering to guest needs — like using their own devices to check in or having complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi in every area of the hotel. I do not see that these changes will be forced on our guests, but rather made available for use as desired. Personal contact and personalized service (including how and when the guest wants it) remains a differentiator. Back-end efficiencies will always be welcomed, so long as they do not negatively impact the guest or over-complicate the experience.
Q: What are your favorite technology devices and travel apps?
My iPhone and iPad are how I stay connected and entertained while traveling or out of the office. My favorite travel apps are very practical and include World Clock, XE (for currency exchange), Google Translate, Aviary (to help edit my travel photos), TripIt, and eWallet (to keep all of my credit card and passport information safe).