Hyatt: Registered-traveler promotion piques interest of guests

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Hyatt Hotels has begun offering its top-tier members of loyalty program complimentary membership in Clear, a registered-traveler program designed to expedite airline passengers through airport security.

Hyatt, which is the first hotel chain to offer such a service to its guests, declined to disclose how many Hyatt Gold Passport members are at the Diamond level, which would qualify them for complimentary Clear membership.

Under its partnership with Verified Identity Pass, the company that operates the Clear program, Hyatt said it intends to extend Clear memberships to other Hyatt guests later this year. There are more than seven million guests enrolled in the Hyatt Gold Passport program.

Clear, a program sanctioned by the Transportation Security Administration that utilizes biometric technology to speed frequent travelers through airport security, is currently in use only at Orlando International Airport, although it is slated to launch this spring at airports in San Jose, Calif., and Indianapolis.

Hyatt said it intends to set up Clear enrollment stations in select hotels when the program is implemented at other airports. Hyatt believes it has significant potential.

This is Hyatt being ahead of curve, said Thomas OToole, senior vice president of strategy and systems at Global Hyatt Corp., Hyatts parent company. I think awareness of the program has been growing rapidly in the last couple of months as it has gotten greater exposure in the press.

I think the more people become aware of the program, the greater their level of interest and, frankly, I think thats what we have tapped into.

Hyatt: Customers interested

OToole said Hyatt guests have expressed keen interest in joining Clear since it announced it would offer complimentary membership for top-tier frequent guests.

Guest interest has exceeded our expectations, OToole said.

Our intention is to develop programs to let other Hyatt guests earn complimentary memberships going forward, OToole continued. In talking with [Verified Identity Pass], they have a very aggressive plan for expansion to a number of other airports in 2006. (See box below.)

Offering the Clear service falls in line with the chains larger objective of serving its guests before they arrive at a hotel, said OToole.

It fits perfectly with a series of initiatives that we have under way here to expedite and improve the travel experience, he said.

Hyatt will soon introduce a service that allows guests to check-in via the Internet, along with an e-concierge program that will allow guests to book activities and services prior to arrival.

Verified Identity Pass estimates that the average wait time for Clears 15,000 members, who pay a $79.95 annual enrollment fee, is 14 seconds, which can save them up to 29 minutes of wait time in security lines at Orlando International Airport.

In January, the TSA reaffirmed its intention to approve similar, qualified, private registered-traveler programs by June. The TSA said it intends to expand the biometric data collected to include 10 fingerprints to better confirm a travelers identity. 

The program would also encompass a redress process for individuals denied access to the program.

Not everyone loves the idea

While Registered Traveler moves forward, it remains a source of controversy.

At a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing, advocates, including airport and business traveler groups, said Registered Traveler would bolster airline security by allowing the TSA to focus on a smaller haystack of passengers to identify possible terrorists and other criminals that might attempt to board commercial airlines.

But the airlines countered that the government should focus on security programs that better screen all passengers, not just a certain travelers.

Meanwhile, privacy advocates urged the government to scrap Registered Traveler altogether, arguing that airline security would be better served by investing in technology and systems that would prevent weapons and explosives from getting onto airplanes, as well as better intelligence-gathering to track known terrorists and their supporters.

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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