NH: The Biggest Hotel Group You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
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One of the leading hospitality groups overseas, Spain-based NH plans to put down roots in New York City in 2016, with an eye toward US expansion. However, American consumers don’t know much about the group’s brands, so TPG Contributor Liana Lozada takes an in-depth look at its hotels and the rewards program it hopes will lure stateside travelers. (All photos courtesy of NH Hotel Group.)
The world’s fifth-largest hospitality group NH operates more than 400 hotels and 60,000 rooms in 29 countries, and is the top hotel provider in some parts of Italy, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. It recently acquired a Latin American chain, Hoteles Royal’s 20 properties in Colombia, Chile and Ecuador, which was such big news in Colombia that the country’s president Juan Manuel Santos attended NH’s launch party in Bogotá.
Despite international excitement, though, the NH Hotel Group has limited stateside awareness, and its banner won’t even arrive in the US until late 2016 when it’ll convert New York City’s Jolly Hotel Madison Towers into an as-yet-unnamed anchoring group property. To see if American travelers will find NH worthy of note, let’s take a closer look at its brands and rewards program.
The NH Hotel Group’s Three Brands
Spain-based hospitality group NH Hotels built its initial success on business travel and event/conference hosting. However, in an effort to reposition itself in the market, the group has recently dropped its most budget-friendly properties, upgraded its mid-to-high-end ones, and now offers three stylish sub-brands — NH Collection, nhow and Hesperia.
NH Collection is the company’s luxury category, with contemporary designs, top-notch facilities and locations in the Czech Republic, Amsterdam and Mexico. The forthcoming New York City location will fall under this category.
Hesperia is NH Hotel Group’s resort line, set primarily in beachside locales in Spain and Venezuela. Hesperia properties tend to be pet- and kid-friendly, offer classic resort features like all-inclusive meal plans and swim-up bars, and often host golf courses.
NH’s Plans for the Future
NH properties are known for great locations that are generally walking distance from popular attractions, and since its group-wide upgrade/refresh, it’s increasingly well known for its artistic decor. However, it’s also become popular for its sprawling daily breakfast buffets, which feature stations for hot items and omelets, juices and smoothies, breads, pastries and more — and creating memorable dining experiences for other meal-times is a priority in the ongoing rebrand.
“Our food offerings will vary from hotel to hotel, based on each location,” explains NH Hotels’ CEO, Federico J. Gonzalez Tejera. “A perfect example of our goals as a brand is the NH Collection Eurobuilding in Madrid, where we have 99 Sushi and a Michelin-starred restaurant. We’re trying to replicate that mix… hotel by hotel, with our standard NH Hotels services.“
NH Hotels also puts a strong emphasis on technology and is the world’s first hotel chain to offer 3D-holographic telepresence for meetings and events — a service that will be used at the New York property — and the NH Collection Eurobuilding, in particular, flaunts the largest LED vault-ceiling screen in the world. Additionally, the company has optimized many suites throughout all three of its sub-brands with tablet-powered room controls. Additional (though as yet unspecified) technological advances are planned in order to keep the brand competitive within the US hotel market, and we here at TPG will be keeping an eye out for that.
The NH Rewards Program
The details of the current NH Rewards program are sometimes vague, but the program has still managed to attract about 4.7 million members. With the hotel group’s impending move to America, it’s my hope that it will make its rewards program more user-friendly. Gathering the following details required several phone calls to the rewards program’s help line and emails to NH’s corporate headquarters in Spain, the latter using translation help from Madrid-based TPG Contributor (and fluent Spanish-speaker) Lori Zaino.
In NH Rewards, each point you earn is worth one euro, no matter what country you’re in. (The exchange rate offered is established once per week by the NH Hotel Group’s financial department.) Once you join the program and complete your first NH stay, you receive 15 points (worth 15 euros) that can be redeemed on your second stay or anytime thereafter. You can start accumulating additional points during your second stay and beyond.
NH Rewards has four elite-category tiers — Blue, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
Complete four stays or 10 nights and you’ll become a Blue member, which entitles you to earn points on just 3% of your total hotel spend. For example, a spend of 100 euros will earn you 3 points, which will then be worth 3 euros upon redemption.
Each additional elite-tier starts with Blue’s basic earning percentage and adds its own tier percentage. For instance, looking at the Silver category in the chart above, “Basic points +20% ” means that you’ll earn the base 3% on your spend plus an additional 20% of that 3%.
Here’s how this math breaks down:
.03 (Blue’s basic earning percentage) x .20 (Silver’s additional earning percentage) = 0.006
.006 + .03 = 0.036
.036 = 3.6%
So, here’s what each tier level earns you on a total hotel spend of 100 euros:
Blue — 3% (3 points)
Silver — 3.6% (3.6 points)
Gold — 3.9% (3.9 points)
Platinum — 4.2 % (4.2 points)
Once the points earned are converted to euros (and remember, we’re talking 1 point = 1 euro), they can be redeemed as (paltry amounts of) currency at participating hotels. Currently, only 10 hotels out the nearly 400 hotel and resort portfolio are excluded from using the rewards program, and most of these exclusions are temporary.
NH Rewards’ benefits are pretty standard stuff for a loyalty program (e.g., free Wi-Fi, express check-in, etc.), but you’ll have to get all the way to Gold (11-19 stays or 21-40 nights) before you’ll have the chance to request a complimentary upgrade. Here are some noteworthy details of the program’s benefits:
—Points can be exchanged for stays at participating hotels, as well as restaurants, spa services, mini-bar spends and room service associated with those stays. Wi-Fi purchases and phone payments also apply, as do certain additional services (e.g., parking, push trolleys, etc.).
—NH Hotel Group Reward members can earn corresponding points for up to a maximum of five rooms per night, as long as the member’s check-in and check-out dates are the same for all the rooms.
—Guests can use a combo of cash + points to cover bills and invoices.
NH Hotel has confirmed that the NH Rewards program will transfer to the US and acknowledges that it has a way to go in order to compete with US-based loyalty programs. As CEO Tejera explains, “The strength of loyalty cards in Europe is much lower than it is in the US, so once we’re in the US, the loyalty program will evolve. In order to answer the question ‘Why us,’ I think we have to offer more benefits to loyalty members — aside from points and discounts — directly through the website, right from the time they join. At the moment, if you’re an NH member and don’t travel that much, you can’t accumulate that much. We definitely want to grow in this area.” Additional incentives may include the option to apply for a co-branded credit card.
NH Hotel’s evolution has so far been impressive, and I applaud the brand for noting its rewards program’s weaknesses, as it’s unlikely that its vaguely described and complicated conversion and extremely low points-earning model will sit well with American consumers. Let’s hope that the brand addresses these weaknesses sooner than later, as its hotels are worthy of both note and American dollars — but certainly not at these low rates of redemption.
If you’re traveling outside the US, would you consider an NH hotel — and once it comes to America, would you want to keep an eye on changes to its rewards program?