Posted by Ric Garrido

Winter storm Rocky added to the ambience of visiting Chicago in winter. I arrived in downtown Chicago just before midnight on Monday, Feb 25 and just a few hours before the snow from Rocky began to fall on Tuesday.

Chicago O’Hare (ORD) has direct access on the CTA blue line trains to downtown Chicago for a small fee of $2.25. A train change downtown to the CTA Red Line Grant Street station found me stepping outside into the streets right around midnight. The wind was blowing and the air cold enough to make me feel good in my winter parka that takes up hanger space in my closet about 361 days of the year at home in Monterey, California. I walked three blocks of sidewalks with a backpack and two roller bags to the Chicago Four Points Magnificent Mile for a one night stay on a BRG rate.

The next afternoon, as Rocky was cranking into high gear,  I made an extremely infrequent ride in a taxi to transfer my bags and myself over to the Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago. The vehicle slipped and slided along the slush covered roads, and I found myself being driven to the House of Blues, rather than the Radisson Blu hotel in an apparent language communication error. Then after getting me to the Radisson Blu and receiving his tip, the driver opens the car trunk and proceeded to hustle another passenger from the corner of the hotel into his cab while leaving me to pull my two bags out of the back of the cab on my own. I really detest taxis, but sometimes they are more convenient.

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Over the next 72 hours I spent less than 30 minutes outside. I spent the days getting schooled. The focus of the 2013 conference was Carlson Business School. While many of the sessions did not have particular relevance to me as Loyalty Traveler, I did pick up some deeper insight into how online travel agencies and hotel chains transact business. One session described Club Carlson member survey results and techniques for hotels to train their staff in providing Club Carlson elite member benefits at hotels. There were also discussions of other technological developments impacting the hotel industry.

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The World Wide Web and hotels

Ambition 2015

Three years ago in 2010 I attended the Carlson Hotels Global Conference in Orlando. The launch of Ambition 2015 announcement from that conference promised a new global five year initiative. The goal was to rebrand, reimage and grow Carlson Hotels as a major competitive player in the hotel industry. The hotel chain planned for 50% growth globally from about 1,000 hotels to 1,500 hotels operating in 2015.

One of the objectives was to garner the type of attention in social media received by Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards, IHG Priority Club, Starwood Preferred Guest and even the much smaller Hyatt Hotels chain with its more frequently talked about Hyatt Gold Passport loyalty program

As of 2010 I had given little attention to goldpoints plus as a loyalty program on Loyalty Traveler blog. The program was disjointed with hotel brands in Europe like Radisson, Park Inn and Park Plaza under the Rezidor Group earning points based on Euros and hotel brands in the USA like Country Inn & Suites and Radisson earning points in US dollars.

Full service brands earned 20 points per dollar or euro and limited service brands earned 15 points per dollar/euro.

The chain recognized the bifurcation of the Radisson brand with Radisson hotels in the Americas distinctly below the standard of most Radisson hotels in Europe and the rest of the world.

Goldpoints plus redemption rates for hotel awards in 2010 seemed totally wacked with six hotel categories and standard award nights at 90,000 points for top tier hotels or even 135,000  points. This was equivalent to $9,000 or 9,000 EUR for a free night with the hotel points base earn rate for the guest staying in Park Inn or Country Inn. This was far more hotel spend required to earn top tier hotel awards than competitor programs.

There was not even a dedicated forum for Carlson goldpoints plus when the loyalty program forums were created for MilePoint.com in early 2011. This was one year after the launch of Carlson’s Ambition 2015 and just weeks after the 2011 global conference announcement of the new Club Carlson loyalty program.

2011 Carlson Global Business Conference Washington, D.C. introduced Club Carlson as the unifying factor

The changeover from goldpoints plus to Club Carlson in 2011 had three major changes to the loyalty program:

  1. All hotels globally  earn 20 points per dollar. Gone were the different earn rates for different brands and gone were the different earn rates based on regional currency. Every hotel worldwide earns 20 points per U.S. dollar.
  2. Hotel awards were simplified with six award categories and no peak season rates. Many hotels dropped by 50% points for an award night. Hotel category reassignment in 2011 shifted hundreds of hotels upward in award category, with a standard award points increase for hundreds of hotels, mostly in the USA. Overall the hotel category reassignment was a good change making the higher quality hotels less costly for award nights.
  3. Elite membership levels were created at Silver, Gold and Concierge with newly defined benefits.

2011 also saw the launch of Radisson Blu as the upper tier hotels in the Radisson brand and a blue box in the logo. U.S. hotels remained Radisson and were informally called Radisson ‘green’ with a green underline added to the name logo.

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2012 – Club Carlson Visa announced.

Extremely generous Club Carlson promotions started in late 2011 in conjunction with the grand opening of Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago as the flagship new hotel for the US market. Stay one night at a Radisson and earn 50,000 points.

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Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago

In 2012 this promotion was followed up with bonus point promotions for all four Carlson Rezidor brands of Radisson, Radisson Blu, Park Inn and Park Plaza.

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Club Carlson Visa launched Dec 1, 2012.

That was Then, This is Now

2013 had no major loyalty program announcements or changes. There was no mention at the conference whether there will be a major hotel award category reassignment for 2013. I kind of expect there to be some shifts In the wake of points devaluations recently with  changes for Hilton HHonors, IHG, Priority Club, Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and Wyndham Rewards over the past two months. Perhaps the recent debut of the Club Carlson Visa card will hold off major hotel award changes for 2013?

Radisson Blu in the USA is set to grow by one more hotel this month when Radisson Blu Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota opens March 15, 2013. This will be the second Radisson Blu hotel in the U.S.

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Photo of Radisson Blu, Mall of America taken Feb 26, 2013 shown in conference presentation.

Radisson Plaza Warwick Philadelphia is experiencing a $17 million remodel and is expected to open summer 2013 as Radisson Blu Warwick. Minneapolis will also see a Radisson Blu hotel open giving the Minneapolis area two Blu properties. The Carlson corporate HQ is located in Minneapolis.

One of the other major developments is the changing of the guard with Marilyn Carlson Nelson, daughter of Curt Carlson, founder of Carlson Hotels and one of Forbes Top 100 women business leaders of the world, handing over the Chair of the Carlson Board of Directors to her daughter, Diana Nelson.

Listening to Marilyn Carlson Nelson speak at the past four Carlson global business conferences has been inspirational and motivational for me. She is a visionary leader and I enjoyed the opportunities to hear her words. At the 2011 Washington D.C. conference an evening reception at the Library of Congress was one of the highlights of my travel life. At one point during the night I found myself alone for about 15 minutes in the Jefferson Library surrounded by Thomas Jefferson’s 6,000+ books. That was a night I’ll always remember fondly.

In one of my blog posts from the 2010 Carlson Conference I referenced lines from the Cameron Crowe film, Almost Famous where the young rock journalist on assignment with Rolling Stone is advised by the editor of the 70s rockzine Creem to be cautious, maintain a journalistic distance and not get sucked into feeling that you are one of the rock stars.

Several people I randomly met during the conference told me they read Loyalty Traveler. That is flattering, yet also intimidating. I feel I need to step up my game.

In a global world of hospitality I am finding myself on the inside track more and more, yet I strive to maintain a big picture view of what my role is as a conduit of information between consumers and the hospitality industry with their loyalty program offers.

Loyalty Traveler is my personal blog for reflecting on travel and the role of loyalty programs in making that travel better.

I am honored when people find my reflections engaging.

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Chicago reflection on ‘The Bean’ Millennium Park, Chicago

Blogger disclosure: Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group paid for three nights of lodging at Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago, Feb 26-March 1, 2013 and included conference meals and a media dinner during my attendance at the Full Service Business Conference.

I paid my own airfare from Monterey, California to Chicago.

5 Responses

  1. This piece was written while on the plane from San Francisco to New York JFK today. Currently I am sitting in the Admirals Club JFK and posted from here. I am off to Zurich in an hour.

    Generally I check my article frequently for name spellings and such, however, this article is primarily going on memory since I do not have the notes with me from the conference last week.

    There will be likely be a follow up post to discuss the 2013 Business Conference in more detail and share more photos of the Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago. I wrote several posts on the hotel in November and December 2011 that you can find using the archives. I will add links to the Radisson Blu Chicago posts and the other three Carlson Global Business Conferences when I get a chance.

    Comment by Ric Garrido on March 4th, 2013 at 3:11 pm
  2. Great post. Club Carlson certainly has done a great job with their ambition plan, I feel. Also good news about the Warwick hotel becoming a Radisson Blu. May consider using my free Radisson 1-for-1 night there instead of Chicago.

  3. Good news for the Warwick. It needs a facelift. The rooms were worn when I stayed there two years ago on a Travelzoo promotion.

  4. AFAIK CTA fares originating from ORD are now $5.

  5. With the Hilton devaluation, I moved from the Doubletree in Philadelphia and now stay exclusively at the Warwick in Philadelphia, I have racked up almost 500,000 miles with this triple promotion and Club Carlson card, my loyalties are with this program.

    I already have made a change later this month from Hilton Beijing to Radisson Blu Beijing,Ihope their is more shift from Hilton, the only thing that speaks to these “loyalty” programs is dollars.

    Club Carlson is now my Number One Hotel chain and considering I am Lifetime Starwood Plat, Lifetime Marriott Plat, and Hilton Diamond that speaks volumes. Club Carlson is in a growth stage, don’t mess it up with any type of devaluation.

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