Hotel Chains Check In To Sponsorship

If you asked a sponsorship consultant to name the sector’s top industry categories, they’d probably start by referencing finance, mobile, alcohol, cars and gaming. But another sponsorship stalwart that tends to fly under the radar is the international hotel sector.

While it is still relatively rare for a hotel chain to assume the role of title sponsor, the last decade has seen most of the world’s leading brands ramp up their investment in sports, entertainment and arts sponsorship – usually as official suppliers or partners. Below, we’ve listed a few high-profile examples that underline the point.

 

There are typically six key reasons why hotels invest in sponsorship. The first, and most obvious, is that it is a great way to build brand profile among target audiences. Such is the diversity of sponsorship properties that hotel chains can easily find ways to engage with specific audience groups, whether that’s business travellers, families or groups that have special requirements (eg, Muslim Halal holidays). In the case of international sponsorship properties, it’s possible for global hotel brands to devise bespoke activations and promotions that leverage the power of the centralised marketing platform.

The second reason, and probably the one that has driven such a high volume of hotel sponsorships in the last decade, is the desire among global chains to promote their loyalty and reward programmes. Notwithstanding the high-profile issue that the industry currently faces regarding data breaches (a cybersecurity problem), sponsorship is a great way to engage in a meaningful conversation with hotel users about the benefits of signing up to such a programme. In addition, the right sponsorship can open up a world of unique rewards for people who sign up (access to/discounts on hot tickets, sports merchandise, perhaps a prize draw to meet a sports star or a celebrity). This is far more compelling than offering perks such as room upgrades and late check-outs, most of which fail to differentiate hotel brands.

Thirdly, sponsorships can also generate direct business for hotel chains (as part of the contractual agreement). In the same way a finance or alcohol sponsor might secure ATM or pouring rights, a hotel chain can ensure it is where teams stay when they travel to away fixtures. Not only is there a revenue-generating dimension to this, it doesn’t do a hotel chain any harm to be known as the place where star footballers or high-profile rock bands come to stay before an event. It’s possible, for example, that this might also generate fan business.

A fourth factor, which has become more prominent in the era of social media, is the way sponsorship can support branded content strategies. Hotels have increasingly turned to content creation as a way of telling their story to target audiences - either promoting their own facilities or exploring the locations they operate in. Add in a few brand ambassadors and they have a powerful engagement tool.

In a similar vein is the fifth benefit, which is that sponsorships can be used to enhance the guest experience. Exclusive music concerts, for example, are the kind of surprise-and-delight experiences that can transform a hotel stay into something magical and memorable.

Finally, sponsorship has become an important ‘hearts and minds’ battleground given the rise of industry disruptors. The big challenge is Airbnb – which has become a front rank sponsor in its own right (see Olympics announcement for example). But there is also a parallel trend which has seen luxury brands enter the hotel business. In the face of this competition, sponsorship is a way for hotel groups to differentiate themselves and maintain a dialogue with consumers.

Accor has been one of the most ambitious of all the hotel chains in recent times, signing a shirt sponsorship deal with French soccer champions Paris Saint-Germain. Starting from this season, the French company’s Accor Live Limitless lifestyle loyalty programme replaced Emirates as the Ligue 1 team’s principal partner. Sebastien Bazin, Chairman & CEO of Accor said: “Partnering with Paris Saint-Germain is an incredible opportunity. Together with Paris Saint-Germain, we will promote a modern French lifestyle concept worldwide. It was natural for our two brands to unite based on our shared values of travel, exchanges and people coming together.” Accor has also been a long-term supporter of the Tour de France via its budget hotel brand Ibis.

Best Western sponsorships down the years have included a multi-term partnership with US motor racing series NASCAR, which was a neat fit for a mid-range as opposed to luxury hotel chain. Closer to home, the hotel chain has also worked with TV channel Dave and the Rainbow Trust Children’s charity. Although not strictly speaking a sponsorship, another interesting partnership saw Best Western link up with iconic motorcycle brand Harley Davidson at a global level.

Hilton is an experienced sponsor that has worked with a range of partners including Live Nation, the US Olympic Team, PGA Golf and European Tour Golf. At the 2019 UKSA Awards, it was a double finalist for its sponsorships of the BMW PGA Championship, in a campaign entered by Right Formula. The partnership was created to excite, inspire and engage with golf and armchair fans in the UK, whilst driving consumer acquisition to the Hilton Honours loyalty programme, and raising brand awareness through a connection in golf. 2018’s key performance indicators were all comfortably exceeded. Hilton was also an UKSA Finalist for its partnership with the European Tour. Hilton is also a long-term partner of F1’s McLaren team, and leverages this relationship to drawn attention to its Hilton Honours scheme.

Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) is a vast company whose sub-brands include Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and InterContinental. So it’s no surprise to see the group lining up alongside a wide range of sports and entertainment platforms. This year’s big news was IHG’s decision to partner the United States Tennis Association on the US Open. As part of its activation it called in former tennis star Andy Roddick as an ambassador. Speaking to Forbes, Claire Bennett, IHG chief marketing officer, said: "When we look at partnerships, it’s more than just displaying our logo. It’s an opportunity for us to show how IHG delivers incredible experiences and service to our guests and IHG Rewards Club members. And that’s what we’re doing throughout the US Open.”

Marriott confirmed its status as one of the world’s biggest hotel chains in 2015 when it acquired rival group Starwood/Sheraton. Among its key partnerships is with NFL, which opens up some attractive rewards via its loyalty programme Bonvoy. The hotel chain has also enjoyed partnerships with the likes of Universal Music Group, India’s IPL cricket competition, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. Manchester United-related experiences on offer include becoming the kit manager or stadium announcer for a Manchester United game, and welcoming the team to the stadium. Marriott Bonvoy is also the official hotel loyalty programme of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team. Members of the loyalty programme can use their points to bid on ‘money-can’t-buy’ experiences such as spending the night on the Mercedes-AMG Petronas yacht during the Monaco Grand Prix and being chauffeured by Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to the circuit on race day.

Radisson Hotel Group signed up as sponsor of CNN International’s flagship feature programme, Business Traveller in 2018. The multiplatform partnership, secured by CNN International Commercial (CNNIC), sees Radisson Hotel Group’s premium lifestyle brand, Radisson Collection, in the opening and closing sponsorship billboards and centre break sponsorship of the show. Eric de Neef, EVP & Chief Commercial Officer of Radisson Hotel Group, said: “Because of the global appeal, reach and audience of the Business Traveller Show, we have chosen CNN to be our exclusive showcase for presenting Radisson Collection to the world.” Raddison also reaches out to young audiences via its RED international hotel chain. To support the RED brand it has a sponsorship with Glasgow Rocks basketball team.

Wyndham has a broad-based sponsorship portfolio including a PGA event that bears its name, The Wyndham Championship (recently renewed until 2026). Outside golf, it has partnered NASCAR, NBA and Cirque du Soleil, the latter as a way to connect with younger audiences. In a similar vein, Wyndham signed a novel (but very synergistic) partnership with theme park group Six Flags.

 

Takeout: The hotel sector makes a great partner for the sponsorship business because it has multiple stories to tell and combines global/ international brands with local activation points (the hotels themselves). It is also the kind of sector that can work well alongside other sponsors – for example in finance, automotive, travel, entertainment or luxury. If there’s one thing that seems to be missing from hotel sponsorship activations it is a narrative explaining to potential visitors what they are doing about the environment. Many hotels are now very green conscious, but this isn’t necessarily expressed through sponsorship. This may change now that the IOC and Airbnb have placed sustainability at the heart of their partnership.


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