How did you enter the world of event-planner loyalty?
I was doing account servicing for a local agency in Singapore and working with Hewlett-Packard on how they can work with partners to create loyalty programmes for distributors. As it was a very small agency they said, ‘Hey XY, we need someone to organise an incentive trip for our retailers…’ So we branched out into incentives for top-performing retailers. We have a lot of computer shows in Singapore, so I was working on marketing-collateral design and end-user campaigns. I also got involved with onsite set-ups, booths and how we create rah-rah for those shows.
How about the transition between college and the working environment?
As a student I was doing part-time work with Hewlett-Packard supporting the R&D arm, and somebody told me an agency was looking for someone. So I gave it a try. HP is strong in building a culture of innovation, design; it was interesting to understand how the whole tech revolution came about.
How did this lead your time with Starwood?
When I was working in a marketing agency, we did a lot of incentive trips for our clients and we happened to be a member of the Starwood Preferred Planners (SPP) programme. I was invited to Starwood events and heard more about SPG and Starwood and how it’s the best in the hospitality industry; it’s still such a strong programme.
Where does loyalty marketing go from here?
If anything I see myself as a bridge between sales and marketing: how do we create marketing materials, be it online or offline, to support the sales team and have meaningful conversations with customers? MICE marketing is big for us in the hotel industry, so it’s about how we come up with compelling offers; talking to customers and sales people and creating on-brand, interesting campaigns that the sales people can sell.
There must’ve been some uncertainty with the Marriott-Starwood merger. How is it for you now coming under the Marriott umbrella?
The integration was a fairly long process, but I was lucky to be able to settle into an expanded role with Marriott where I look after B2B marketing teams and events.
The exciting thing is looking after an expanded portfolio with 30 brands and more than 550 hotels in Asia Pacific. I think there is a lot of excitement about what we have to do and how we can make it happen. That motivation and positivity is getting me focused on what we can do better and what we can do next.
There are new roles and we’ve a few of the legacy Starwood people moving into good positions with Marriott International, and I think having some of our old teammates moving along with me is like taking some of the good learning experiences that we had with Starwood and fusing these with what Marriott has.
Your role looks angled on events. What does this entail?
In our team one person will be dedicated to looking after events. Every year we’ll have sales missions in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong where we bring all the hotels together and have one event where customers learn about hotels and have business discussions, like a mini trade show. On top of that there are customer appreciation events. The more local customer events will be executed by sales teams in the market… we come and support as well as helping with on-brand presentations. We want to make sure that the experience for our customers is quite consistent from a brand perspective.
At their own events, our customers are thinking about creating something more special and experiential. So we want to make sure that events we do ourselves are able to deliver something special for our buyers and customers.
You stepped into your Starwood-Marriott career as the digital era was coming of age. Was that daunting, or did it come naturally?
I think of it as an evolution. When I first started we did a lot more traditional marketing and as Starwood was very strong from a digital perspective with the app, a lot of what we do is from our digital space. I think I was very lucky to come into this era where everyone kind of knows it. What’s interesting is that I don’t think we’re doing digital marketing anymore, I think we’re marketing in a digital world.
Xue Ying Mei is APAC manager of B2B programmes and communications for Marriott International