Should you be worried about Club Carlson points after Chinese buyout of Carlson Hotels? In another major hotel chain acquisition, a deal for the buyout of Minnesota-based Carlson’s hotel division by China’s HNA Tourism Group was announced yesterday.
Hotels change ownership all the time and generally there is little noticeable impact on the hotel guest. In this case, there should be less noticeable impact than we will see with the Marriott-Starwood or IHG-Kimpton mergers. From what I have read, Carlson’s Board of Directors approved this deal due to the ability to maintain its headquarters in Minnesota and continue running Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group operations.
I am not a financial guy or a hotel industry insider. My knowledge of the hotel industry has primarily developed from attending hotel industry conferences and reading trade journals. My interaction with most hotels is a regular hotel guest experience while on a trip. My knowledge base of Carlson Hotels is a bit deeper than other hotel chains after attending five annual business meetings as a social media blogger from 2010 to 2014.
The Carlson family of Minnesota who own controlling interests in the hotel chain are descendants of Curt Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Curt Carlson founded Gold Bond Stamp Company, a consumer loyalty program in 1938. ‘Gold Bond Stamps’ were used to reward grocery shoppers. Curt Carlson purchased the Minneapolis Radisson in 1960 and built the hotel brand into a U.S. hotel chain. The reason for Club Carlson currency being called Goldpoints is a tribute to the original Gold Bond Stamps. Curt also purchased TGI Friday’s restaurants.
Fast-forward to 2016 and sisters Marilyn Carlson Nelson and Barbara Carlson Gage, daughters of Curt Carlson, are the matriarchs of the Carlson Family global empire and co-CEOs of Carlson Holdings, a multi-billion dollar corporation. They ranked #1,638 on Forbes 2015 global billionaires. Marilyn retired from her CEO position of Carlson Inc. in 2013, handing the CEO position over to her daughter Diana Nelson.
On a personal note, Marilyn Carlson is a person I found to be a fantastic inspirational speaker. One of her passions is abolishing child trafficking and sexual exploitation of children around the world. More than once while listening to Marilyn speak she moved me to tears with her stories and guidance on how we can improve conditions for others. She always impressed me as an authentic speaker.
Anyway, as I said, I am not a financial guy. I speak with no authority and no real knowledge of the Chinese purchase of Carlson Hotels, aside from what I read on the web. As I have said before when writing about Club Carlson is “I am just a guy sitting on my couch at home shooting my mouth off.” Or sometimes I am in a hotel room typing verbal diarrhea.
My suspicions are this sell-out of Carlson’s hotel interests is a family strategic financial move. Carlson used to own a cruise ship line. The cruise ship line was sold just as major financial investments were being made to improve the image of Carlson’s hotel interests with Radisson and Country Inn.
Club Carlson created big interest in social media in 2011 when many of us used their program to earn inexpensive free nights. Repeated brand recognition promotions offered lucrative bonus points of 44,000 and 50,000 points for one night stays in each of Carlson’s hotel brands of Radisson, Country Inn, Park Plaza and Park Inn. Then, the launch of Club Carlson Visa in 2012 with an extraordinary credit card member benefit of one free night on any reward booking using points for two or more nights sealed the deal. Carlson hotel reward stays were one of the best loyalty program bargains around for three years. That travel consumer’s dream benefit ended last May 2015 when the final opportunity to book two reward nights for the price of one was eliminated for Club Carlson Visa card members.
Still, I have four nights in reservations to complete from that Club Carlson Visa benefit that cost me 100,000 points in May 2015 and now has a price tag of 280,000 Club Carlson points for the same hotels.
I redeemed around 500,000 Club Carlson points last year. I don’t think I ever spent much more than $1,000 to earn all those points that bought me around $10,000 in rooms over the past five years, mostly in London hotels.
My room view from Park Plaza London Westminster Bridge (March 2013).
Carlson is one of the largest privately held companies in the world. The social media awareness for Club Carlson over the past five years seems to have been a financial investment strategy made to raise the profile of the Carlson Rezidor hotel chain, perhaps in an effort to sell the enterprise at good value. The hotel arm of the Carlson empire is a relatively minor proportion of the overall value of the company interests.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel Agency at $24.2 billion in sales volume for 2015 had far more revenue compared to the Club Carlson hotel business. Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group had 2015 revenue around $7.3 billion.
To place Carlson Wagonlit in perspective, take a look at this graphic from Travel Weekly Power List 2015:
TravelWeekly.com Power List 2015
3. American Express Global Business Travel
4. Carlson Wagonlit Travel
Carlson Hotels announced a five year strategic plan in February 2010 called Imagine 2015. Two years ago I attended my last Carlson conference when the initiative Vision 2020 was unveiled. Here is my Loyalty Traveler article from that conference: Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group From Ambition 2015 to Vision 2020 (Feb 26, 2014).
No mention of selling the hotel chain to the Chinese in my 2014 notes.
Carlson had a five year hotel plan. I was at the Orlando conference in 2010 for the global launch of Imagine 2015.
Many of us signed onto that Carlson vision with a world of hotel dreams made possible through several high value bonus points and free nights promotions in 2011 and 2012. Then the credit card with terrific member benefits for hotel reward stays.
Then we woke up from a pleasant dream in June 2015 when the 2-for-1 reward night party ended.
My good fortune is to be a frequent traveler to Europe, where I can still take full advantage of the best Club Carlson has to offer its members in terms of hotels and deals. I still have several great 2-for-1 and 4-for-2 discount rate bookings lined up as a Club Carlson Gold elite member benefit for European hotel weekend stays.
I don’t expect much to change in the near term with Club Carlson. But, I also don’t have 20/20 vision to foresee the Club Carlson hotel loyalty program with Vision 2020 in Chinese style.
Wall Street Journal – China’s HNA to Buy Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group (April 28, 2016)
Skift.com – Carlson Hotels Bought by China’s HNA Tourism Group for Undisclosed Sum (April 27, 2016)
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Carlson selling hotel group to Chinese company HNA (April 27, 2016)
Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group – HNA Tourism Group Enters Agreement with Carlson Hospitality Group for the Acquisition of Carlson Hotels, Inc. (April 27, 2016)