Opening Remarks – April, 28 2003

Opening Remarks – April, 28 2003

While you read through our coverage of the Freddies — what you and other frequent travelers have identified as the very best of what frequent traveler programs are all about — I thought I’d take a moment to tell you of two awards that were handed out at the Freddies that aren’t included in the recap of results.

From time to time, we like to present our own awards, sometimes referred to as the “Randys,” that are not voted on by the public. We give these awards to honor and reward the efforts of people, programs and events that influence and shape the industry as a whole. The two awards I’m talking about were presented to two individuals who have changed the way frequent travel programs are operated and viewed by the public. In each case, you will see that, even had they not been presented with an award, they are already both winners.

The first award that I presented at the ceremony in Colorado Springs was to someone that I first chatted with in 1986, when I started this magazine. Though I was still in my frequent travel infancy at the time, she had already spent years creating arguably the most successful franchise in the hotel guest program industry. I’m talking about Lynne Roach-Hildebrand.

What’s so important about Lynne that we felt the need to present her with a Distinguished Achievement Award? Well, for starters, she is the lady who many say single-handedly created the very first Marriott loyalty program. In 1983, while working in marketing at one of the Philadelphia-area Marriott Hotels, she headed the small group that would launch Marriott Honored Guest Awards. In January of this year, almost 20 years to the day after she started working on Marriott’s loyalty programs, she moved to another division within Marriott. But she leaves a great legacy. There has been no other single person in the industry who has shaped a program, or extended her influence to the betterment of the industry as Lynne has.

Imagine, 20 years of points, miles, and all the joy and headaches that go with them. She was and remains a pioneer, and with an estimated 18 million members in Marriott Rewards today, her vision, business savvy and most of all determination outlasted all the others that came later on. At the end of the day, the most important thing I learned from Lynne was that she served only one role for Marriott — to recognize and reward those who called Marriott home when they had to be on the road.

What a lady. What a legacy.

The other award I presented was to the famous William Sanders, better known as the Starwood Lurker. He and Starwood Preferred Guest were honored with an Industry Impact Award. More than any other program, Starwood Preferred Guest has recognized that customer service in the era of the Internet is quite different, and the support of the Starwood Lurker has truly become a standard in this respect.

In his role as the Starwood Lurker, William Sanders was honored for his efforts to continuously gather member feedback, freely share program information and expertly build loyalty. He has set a standard of excellence in his pursuit of customer evangelism that all travel loyalty programs will be measured by.

What’s this term, “customer evangelism,” you ask? Well, in a recently published book called Creating Customer Evangelists, The Starwood Lurker was identified along with such other great customer service luminaries as Southwest Airlines and Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks.

The idea behind the efforts of Starwood and William is to go to your customers, seek them out and make them your evangelists. William spends hours every day seeking members of Preferred Guest wherever they gather online and supporting their community — something not done consistently by other programs. William now has a growing fan club, and you can be sure there are thousands more Starwood Preferred Guest members today who have joined the program because of the positive word of mouth that the Starwood commitment to customer service has created. And every one of them has become an evangelist to other members.

William and Starwood could not have done this any better.

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