Twenty-eight years after breaking ground as the hotel industry's first loyalty club, Priority Club Rewards, the hotel loyalty program from IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), undertook extensive global research to better understand the attitudes and habits of hotel guests.

Priority Club Rewards conducted a three-year journey of quantitative and qualitative research of more than 10,000 frequent travelers, who were enrolled in loyalty programs from IHG and other leading hotel companies in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The findings provided an inside look at the global travel loyalty marketplace and were used to develop the new look and positioning for Priority Club Rewards.

"In 2010, we enrolled on average 600,000 guests per month in Priority Club Rewards; we now have more than 56 million members which is almost equivalent to the population of the U.K. The re-launch of Priority Club Rewards is a significant investment by IHG to strengthen our global competitiveness in the industry and among savvy frequent travelers with numerous choices of where to stay," said Don Berg, vice president, Loyalty Programs and Partnerships, IHG. "This guest-driven re-launch is proof that successful brand innovation requires more than a facelift, but also an investment in research and development to deliver a relevant product that will attract and retain loyal customers."

While Priority Club Rewards features notable programs such as: No Point Expiration, No Blackout Dates, the Points & Cash system and access to airline ticket inventory and non-IHG hotel rooms, respectively, through Flights Anywhere™ and Hotels Anywhere™ redemption options, IHG will also add several new Priority Club Rewards redemption offerings in 2011.

"The research clearly confirmed that hotel loyalty program members in every region of the world not only want to earn currency that is valuable and flexible, they also want to maintain absolute control in how they use it," adds Berg. "And, with so many new choices to redeem Priority Club® points, there's never been a better time to book directly on IHG's website, where members can earn Priority Club points with every stay."

Among the top trends identified by Priority Club Rewards:

- Hotel loyalty program points displace airline frequent flyer miles as preferred currency: Frequent travelers place a higher perceived value on hotel loyalty program currency over frequent flier miles, as airlines' imposition of fees, decreased reward seat inventory and greater restrictions have weakened consumer trust, and as hotel programs add additional redemption options, including access to airline inventory.

- Business travelers value loyalty more than price: Loyalty program membership is a stronger predictor of hotel selection than price or location – for frequent guests who stay a minimum of 20 nights per year – regardless of preference for midscale or upscale brands.

- Travelers across North America, Asia Pacific and Europe are equally point currency conscious: The value loyalty points hold as currency – for earning and redeeming – ranked as the highest priority for hotel selection by frequent travelers globally, higher than special perks, privileges or benefits in the hotel.

- Global economy a solid indicator of consumer activity in loyalty programs: Health of the global economy has an inverse correlation with driving hotel loyalty members to use point redemption options versus stockpiling, given points' perceived utility as cash. For example, during a single month in 2008, Priority Club® members redeemed points for US$1 million in gasoline card vouchers as rising oil prices inflated gas prices.

Leading with this valuable consumer insight, the re-launched Priority Club Rewards loyalty program is now better equipped to meet the needs of the changing frequent traveler and continues to be a key business driver for IHG. Priority Club Rewards will further empower frequent guests through an easy and efficient point-focused program that provides access to non-hotel travel related services, discount and high-end retail merchandise and gift vouchers, exclusive life experiences, and of course IHG's more than 4,400 hotels worldwide.

As part of the new Priority Club Rewards look and feel, introduced are:

- Redesigned Priority Club® Rewards membership cards: A refreshed blue color palette with inspirational imagery from destinations around the world
- Sleek, easy-to-use new website rolling out globally by late April; the only online booking site where members get rewarded with Priority Club points for their hotel stays: www.priorityclub.com
- Custom photography included in member communications, advertising and marketing materials that will transport guests to some of the most beautiful destinations in the world
- An informative, newly designed member e-statement
- A new Priority Club Rewards logo