IHG joins the direct-booking push

(InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta Hotel)

IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) has joined the industrywide push for direct bookings by offering discounted rates to loyalty members who choose their hotels directly from the brand's website. The Your Rate by IHG Rewards Club is an exclusive rate for IHG Rewards Club members making direct bookings, and the program is launching this month at IHG hotels in the Americas and Europe, with plans to debut in the Middle East, Africa and China later this year.

"IHG is a consumer-driven company and we are committed to ensuring that we provide a superior and personalized experience for our millions of guests around the world," Keith Barr, chief commercial officer at IHG, said in a statement. "Offering exclusive rates to our most loyal guests who know and trust IHG’s family of brands is a key part of this. The launch of Your Rate by IHG Rewards Club is another important milestone for our loyalty program, which last year launched a new top-tier membership rate, Spire Elite, alongside a series of other benefits."

IHG ran a pilot offering for exclusive member rates in the Americas and Europe during 2015, which influenced its decision to launch the program throughout its portfolio. But the industry research may have been unnecessary looking at prevailing trends, which see the biggest names in the industry hitting back at online travel agencies through guest wallets. Like others before it, IHG's loyalty-based rate discounts will be gated off behind the brand's website, mobile app and phone reservations at IHG's call centers. 

At the same time, select travel partners will be able to book these rates on behalf of IHG Rewards Club Members on eligible channels over the coming weeks, an issue Hyatt contended with last month when the American Society of Travel Agents claimed the new direct-booking push alienated global distribution systems. Like Hyatt, however, the impetus behind IHG's decision remains the same: The industry's biggest brands are collectively trying to prove that they can provide better rates than the OTAs in a bid to refocus attention back on themselves.

It all started with Hilton, which expanded its HHonors rewards program to offer discounted rates for direct bookings in February, and industry giants Marriott, Hyatt and IHG have stepped up to follow the trend. Loyalty programs continue to be a massive draw to guests, who have been proven to change booking patterns to follow the savings, and we can expect more brands to follow the leaders in the coming months.

At the recent AmericInn conference in St. Paul, Minn., company executives said they were watching how the direct-booking push plays out before acting, but have their hands on the trigger.

"… we recognize that if this strategy gets the sort of traction the industry thinks it will, we will have to go there," said Paul Kirwin, president and CEO of AmericInn. "If in six months the brands drop it then we didn't need to do it, but if it sticks we have to be there quickly."