In order to attract new customers and encourage repeat business, travel and hospitality brands should differentiate on more than just price by creating personalized customer experiences.
Loyalty programs in the travel industry have been around since the 1970s, when American Airlines pioneered the Advantage Frequent Flyer program. Since then, many hospitality brands have followed suit and developed their own loyalty programs. But decades later, many of these programs have failed to evolve to meet the ever-changing consumer trends.
Successful loyalty programs encourage users to engage with the brand across multiple channels and provide a variety of ways to interact, share their preferences, and build emotional connections. Travel should be fun, and so should a loyalty program!
Here are a few ways that travel and hospitality companies can go the extra mile for their customers through a loyalty & engagement program.
Personalize the experience
Leverage customer profile and purchase data to create personalized experiences. Whether for business or leisure, travelers have vastly different preferences, and without engaging on a deeper level to learn more, brands will struggle to provide the most relevant offers and rewards. The more you engage with your customers, the more you can learn about the contexts of their trips and personalize travel offers for them. For example, those who extend business trips into leisure have formed a whole new category of “bleisure” travelers who brands need to cater to. In fact, a survey cited that 76% of business travelers said they would prolong a trip for leisure if their hotels offered an incentive. Armed with this insight, brands can provide greater value for customers by targeting them with promotions that make it easy to extend their stay.
Generational differences create another opportunity for personalization in travel and hospitality loyalty programs. For example, Expedia cited that 86% of millennials opt to redeem reward points earned from business for leisure purposes, compared to 72% of those aged 46-65. Brands can leverage this data to create deeper connections across each generation.
Some travel and hospitality brands are realizing the value of investing in improving personalization capabilities, citing artificial intelligence as a key to this. Choice Hotels recently brought on a new Chief Technology Officer who is focused on improving digital customer engagement and using AI and analytics to improve personalization and increase repeat bookings through the Choice Privileges program. They are even partnering with Amazon to learn how to integrate the best machine learning and predictive analytics tools to make experiences more personal.
Offer unique rewards
Rewards like discounted flights and hotel rooms sometimes fall short of satisfying diverse travel preferences. Instead of only offering discounts, brands should aim to accommodate 89% of consumers that view “alternative” rewards like access to Wi-Fi and exclusive events as highly valuable. These member-only benefits are a great way to mitigate risk at a corporate level while creating desirable, tailored experiences on a customer level.
The Wyndham Rewards program partners with companies like Starbucks, Caesars Entertainment, and United Airlines so users can earn and redeem points in various ways. In addition, members can redeem points for Best Buy gift cards, Apple TVs, or even donate points to support charitable organizations.
Brands that keep their programs fresh by continually offering personalized, authentic opportunities to earn and burn points keep customers engaged and coming back trip after trip.
Provide an exceptional level of support
Loyalty programs are a great tool to entice new customers and increase customer satisfaction, but they are only effective if the brand helps its users understand and navigate the program. Surprisingly, only 9% of brands are effective at helping members make the most of their loyalty program membership. To differentiate and provide superior support, brands should consistently engage with users across different channels to provide customized updates, request feedback, and create dialogue with customers.
When customers know that your program offers special support and that you genuinely care about creating positive experiences, you can incentivize repeat business and differentiate from more generic programs. JetBlue has worked to modernize the way its customer service supports travelers by integrating new channels like email, Twitter, and Facebook all into one central customer service feed. This creates a more seamless user experience while allowing JetBlue to consolidate its backend support.
Encourage digital advocacy
Incentivize and reward users for sharing positive experiences and inviting others to join in. Travel brings people together and is one of the most emotionally fulfilling subjects to share with family, friends and colleagues. It has also become incredibly easy to share travel reviews online and on social media. Reviews are like currency because 96% of consumers read reviews before booking travel, and 88% of travelers filter out hotels with low average ratings.
Travel and hospitality brands should encourage customer advocacy through their loyalty programs by encouraging users to complete reviews and refer friends. Customer referrals are often more cost effective and impactful than advertising. Social Media Today cited that 92% of customers trust suggestions from friends and family more than advertisements. So, when a loyalty program can successfully encourage customer reviews and advocacy, a brand gains credibility and becomes more attractive to new prospective customers.
Make It Mobile
Leverage technology to provide unique, multichannel experiences and reach customers with different digital appetites. 91% of loyalty program members say they prefer to engage with brands using emerging technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, and card-on-file. By connecting mobile apps and integrations, a loyalty program becomes more valuable, seamless, and fun.
For example, Marriott invested in PlacePass, which lets users search and compare prices when booking travel. With a commitment to personalizing experiences, Marriott tailors user searches based on previous stays and other purchasing behavior. The Hyatt Hotels app allows users to hail an Uber from their hotel location or connect with a Hyatt employee using Facebook Messenger or Twitter.
While many travel and hospitality companies already have loyalty programs in place, they often lack the thoughtful engagement necessary to make their programs truly effective and rewarding for users. Brands can differentiate in the crowded travel and hospitality marketplace by offering unique personal experiences and integrating the most cutting-edge technology to make members feel valued. By providing fun, mobile ways for travelers to earn points and share experiences, brands can turn a first-time customer into a lifelong traveler.
To learn more about consumer preferences and personalization, download our whitepaper Giving Customers What They Want: Personalized and Predictive Brand Experiences.