Gone are the days when travel partnerships among airlines, hotels, credit card marketers and rental car companies were considered simply a way to extend a media plan. Today, travel partnerships are becoming more fine-tuned marketing machines, offering added value for world travelers.
"Whether it's Coca-Cola or Nestle, partnering with global companies provides synergies on a worldwide scale and allows for each marketer to tap the other's strengths in given regions," said Tony Altobelli, manager-international marketing, Walt Disney Co., Orlando, Fla.
Increasing sophistication of programs is leading partners to consider more exclusivity and selectivity in choosing partners.
"Today, we all are partners with everyone else," said Ken Pierce, director-relationship marketing, Holiday Inn Worldwide, Atlanta. "Airlines are accepting more hotels, and hotels are making deals with more airlines." But in the near future, he said, "some [partnerships] will be limited in terms of exclusivity."
The allure for a hotel chain to become the exclusive partner of an airline is added consumer value and more bang for the marketing buck: Delta Airlines could be identified continually with Hilton Hotels worldwide.
"The hit-and-run [partnering] activity of the '80s is slowing down," said Tom Edwards, director of marketing, Visa USA, San Francisco. "But in the travel industry, global partners are a must."
THE MOUSE ROARS
Walt Disney Co.'s Florida and California theme parks attract more than 25% of visitors from abroad, and Disney, with a marketing partnership with Delta Airlines, is seeking new partners-other airlines and rental car companies. "It comes down to what all the partners are seeking, and there are a lot of variables," said Mr. Altobelli.
Disney seeks stronger international partnerships to draw greater attendance to its theme parks. The company works with travel wholesalers selling package deals in Europe, Canada, Latin America and Asia, and it has co-ops with Eastman Kodak Co. and American Express, and with Florida and California state tourism boards, for international travel.
DISNEY'S SMALL WORLD
Disneyland Paris has set up affiliates in most European markets- Disneyland Vacances in France and Disneyland Holidays in the U.K.-to arrange travel packages with transportation, hotels, admission and meals.
In major markets, the operator provides options for air travel with major airlines, rail travel and ferry travel. And Disneyland Paris has a new partner in Hertz Corp.
But Disneyland Paris does not support the packages with much advertising. Domestic ads for the park, rail operator SNCF and Air Inter mention the package options, but beyond France, packages are mentioned infrequently.
Airlines are the most prolific partners. Germany's Lufthansa Airlines teamed with Ramada Inns, Renaissance, Kempinski International and the Intercontinental Hotel group. While the partners do not run joint campaigns, Lufthansa ads recommend the chains, and the hotels participate in a Lufthansa program that enables travelers to book flights and hotel rooms.
Lufthansa also has airline partnerships with United Airlines, Thai Airways, Intern SAS, Varig, South African Airways and, starting in June, Air Canada.
These partners' campaigns mention other partners in their home market. Lufthansa's agency is Young & Rubicam, Frankfurt.
"Our alliances have come closer last year and this will continue," said Joachim Platz, Lufthansa's manager-marketing coordination.
Varig has partnerships with Lufthansa, Delta, Avis and the Rede Tropical de Hoteis chain, and has a Y&R-produced newsletter.
THE SAME AUDIENCE
The smartest partnerships cater to similar customer profiles. Upscale Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is said to be linking in a global partnership with British Airways this spring. Much like others, their partnerships include frequent-flier miles for club members who pay corporate rates or higher when they stay at Shangri-La.
"We will continue to pursue alliances with companies targeting the same audience as ourselves and where there is mutual benefit," said Robert Hutchinson, group director of marketing for Shangri-La, which also works with American Express on joint print campaigns.
In the past two years, Hong Kong's Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group signed partnership deals with British Airways, Japan Airlines and China Airlines.
Regent Hong Kong, part of the Four Seasons Regent group, has partnered with Lufthansa and Cathay as well as cruise ship companies. The hotel, which says credit card and airlines partnerships generate more business, is working with American Express, Diners Club and Visa to provide offers to cardholders staying at Four Seasons properties.
A TRAVEL VISA
With 400 million cardholders globally, Visa USA has hundreds of partnership programs.
"Partnerships are a matter of creating another income source," said Visa's Mr. Edwards.
Visa's advantage is having four times as many merchant locations as rival American Express-and that it partners with the world's major airlines, hotels and rental car companies, he said. Visa has promotions with Monaco, Italy and Hong Kong, among others.
"The partnership occurs between government and merchants who create value added," he said. "We get tourism boards involved and provide as much customer service as possible."
Through Visa's partnership with the French Government Tourist Office, a new promotion will feature a "France Prefers Visa" pass with discounts, including a 45% discount plus breakfast in more than 100 three- and four-star Paris hotels and 10% discounts at department stores. There is also a "Museum and Monument" visitor card included.
American Express does promotions with Swiss Air and the Swiss Tourism office to give the country an affordable image. Using 30 airline partners, AmEx creates packages with different themes but does very little traditional advertising.
Using Grasbertel Buczek, New York, the card company did some advertising, direct marketing and cable TV last year for the U.S. This year it is advertising on the internet.
"We are doing a lot more promotions with multiple partners [with cities such as Philadelphia], not just airlines," said Rhonda Choen, AmEx manager-travel partners. "It's a good idea because you can pool funds-the more partners you have, the more objectives you need to fullfill programs."
TICKET TO RIDE
Car rental-airline partnerships are also flourishing. Lufthansa has established partnerships with Avis, Budget and German marketer Sixt, which grant special rates and are involved in below-the-line marketing.
Passengers using these rental car companies receive Lufthansa frequent-flier miles.
American Airlines is linked in a promotion aimed at Latin Americans created by Ryder & Schild, Coral Gables, Fla., with the state of Florida and Hertz Corp. to offer a Hertz car and American AAdvantage miles.
"This program reinforces the value of American's AAdvantage program, giving them a reason to fly American [to Florida] and rent from Hertz," said Bruce Noonan, senior VP with Ryder & Schild. "It gets the state a lot of exposure."
A new promotion with the Discovery Channel placed point-of-purchase promotional materials at travel agencies to award a trip for two on American with a car and a free week's stay in Florida. For Hertz, the program helps advance the decision to rent a car to earlier in the trip-planning process.
"Rental car companies in general look to value-added because if the rental car company can advance the rental decision .*.*. early in the process it's to their advantage," said Mr. Noonan. "Relationship marketing has always been a key factor in the rental car industry."
Travel industry experts say that marketers comfortable with their partnership programs should expect a change in makeup.
"I think we will begin to see some hub programs [revolving around a major organizing partner]," said Holiday Inn's Mr. Pierce.
"And we may see a very different frequency business," such as frequent fliers.
Mr. Pierce added while everyone has their own programs and partners, the future might see partners and individuals combine and be identified with a larger single partner. "The big programs, those that circle around airlines, will be more selective about their airlines."
Programs will also be tailored so travelers who don't fly internationally won't be targeted by major global carriers like Delta, he said.
While Visa's Mr. Edwards said exclusivity is fundamental in travel partnerships, Disney's Mr. Altobelli disagreed: "That limits both the airlines and us," he said.
Neither Holiday Inn nor Visa USA separate its international and domestic approach to partnerships unless the promotion is location-specific.
And they are partners with all airlines, domestic and international.
Outside of the U.S., Asia and Europe, Holiday's Priority Club program differs by market.
"We haven't taken the U.S. program...," said Mr. Pierce. "The awards structure is different and communication is different."
Holiday uses very little trade media and shares databases and direct marketing with its partners.
Some entertainment companies give programs a domestic slant, Mr. Edwards said, by tailoring the program to the end user to meet specific regional needs.
Contributing: Bruce Crumley, Paris; Dagmar Mussey, Dusseldorf; Claudia Penteado, Rio de Janeiro; Jeffery D. Zbar, Hollywood, Fla.