At global conference, Preferred Hotel Group plans for what's "Next"

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Preferred Hotel Group is hosting 327 attendees from its affiliated hotels here at The Inn at Spanish Bay this week, as the group, which comprises over 600 hotels globally, is updating its members on how its 2014 is finishing out and strategies for 2015.

Always a believer in the power of travel, Preferred Hotel Group Chairman John Ueberroth was quick to note that even though travel planning has become more digitized, "travel agents aren't going away. They'll be here 10 years from now," he told the audience, which represented some 26 countries.

He also offered a few predictions, including that airfares will continue to rise, due in part to consolidation; conflicts and disasters were not going away; handheld devices will continue to evolve and be ever more ubiquitous; and that more people will continue to travel and they "all have different preferences," he said. The question is, he continued, "What is Preferred's role? The goal is to leave [here] with renewed confidence that we are doing right things to grow your revenue and profits."

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The theme of this year's event, as Lindsay Ueberroth, president and CEO of Preferred Hotel Group, explained, is "Next." Ueberroth touched on a variety of issues from metasearch and revenue management to group travel and meetings.

Ueberroth said that Preferred hotels from 2012-2013 generated revenues around $838 million. That number was $590 million in 2011. 

Bookings were up 3.4 percent year-over-year to 1.4 million in 2013-2014. Group sales revenue was $31,872 million in the period. "We will continue to invest on the group side," Ueberroth said. 

On the meetings side, Preferred recently signed two agreements with Bank of America and American Express Meetings.

Preferred is also expanding into metasearch. "We will partner with ones we think are relevant," Ueberroth said, adding that in 2013-2014, there was 20-percent growth in revenue from metasearch partners." Ueberroth also said Preferred was in the final stages of new deals with Expedia and Hotelbeds.

With regard to direct bookings, they are up 35 percent on

Ueberroth also outlined goals for 2015, which included revenue growth to member hotels, growth in web and mobile presence, iPrefer (Preferred's loyalty program) growth and focusing on member communications. In March of 2015, Preferred will also be launching a new website that is mobile responsive.

The linchpin across Preferred Hotel Group is its loyalty program, iPrefer, which launched about a year ago and now boasts around 1.3 million members. The goal is to be 2 million strong by the end of the year.

Casey Ueberroth, SVP of marketing for Preferred Hotel Group, wants to make it better and compete on even better footing with other hotel chains and brands.

Currently, around 85 percent of Preferred hotels participate in iPrefer; Casey Ueberroth wants to make it 100 percent.

He offered some numbers that show iPrefer's growth. The average stay value of members is $820 in 2014, up from $775 in 2013. New enrolled members are around 15,500 per month.

Year to date, iPrefer member stay revenue for 2014 is $26.8 million. Further, 72 percent of revenue came from enrollments that originated at another Preferred hotel. 

"We want 100 percent participation," Ueberroth said. "Fully engaged and where people say it's the best program."

Ueberroth also said they are currently working on a hotel incentive program, whereby the front desks would get cash rewards for signing guests up. It should kick in by Q1 2015. 

Farther out, iPrefer is working on a system of points for free nights, but that won't launch to maybe Q4 2015.