The saying that “trust is earned” couldn’t be more applicable than in our post-pandemic world of tourism and hospitality. When brands across the world, hospitality and travel, in particular, started to experience the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, they struggled with finding ways to keep their loyalty programs valuable to their customers. Most hoteliers addressed this with free cancellation policies and adjustments to guests’ rewards privileges, while some are still scrambling to figure out what to do.
What seems like an absolute disaster is an opportunity in disguise. Travel hasn’t gone anywhere because people will always have the urge to travel. In fact, Airbnb reported that 54% of travellers say they have already booked, are planning for travel, or expect to travel in 2021. With this in mind, hoteliers can prepare accordingly.
A Shift in The Market
The norm of loyalty points systems based on only transactions is no longer good enough for the post-pandemic traveller. In this survey by Oracle, 78% of the people surveyed prefer immediate benefits, rather than accumulating loyalty points and another 20% don't join loyalty programs because the rewards offered don't appeal to them. However, this doesn’t mean that loyalty programs should be scrubbed altogether. In the same study, 61% of travellers were more interested in selecting their own rewards and 54% were interested in room upgrades.
Of course, people will still be motivated to gain and use their loyalty points, but with travel being less frequent these days, guests are far more focused on the experience. Taking this time to invest in some thorough UX research might be a good place to start. Knowing your customer base and understanding their needs is absolutely key in attracting new and returning hotel guests once travel picks up again. And when hotels can offer a more personalized experience for their guests, brand loyalty will follow.
Personalized doesn’t always have to mean complex or expensive. Knowing what’s important to your potential guests might just mean offering them the option to opt-out of housekeeping services in exchange for a free drink at the hotel bar. And with the average demographic quickly changing due to these unprecedented times, it would be wise to take advantage of online listening tools to learn more about your guests and how you can cater to them.
Keep an open line of communication with your loyalty program members and ask them for feedback. Offer special deals or awards for filling out a questionnaire and make sure to ask your customers what types of rewards they would like to receive. And don’t ignore the power of engaging on social media. According to Oracle, 43% of millennials have an interest in earning points for sharing their experiences on social media. You can then use this information and these preferences to create a valuable guest profile, which will help you offer personalized offers and adjustments to that guest’s stay. It’s important to constantly be doing market research to keep your hotel loyalty program optimised and competitive.
Today’s travellers are willing to share their personal information in exchange for a more curated, seamless experience. Having direct access to your loyalty program members via social media or email marketing ensures them that you are listening and that you care about their needs and preferences. There have been numerous shifts in guest behaviour since the beginning of 2020 and the hoteliers that can pick up on these changes will benefit immensely. For example, the “Work from Hyatt” package offers remote workers the opportunity to earn points by relocating their home office to any Hyatt location. And since the “work-from-home” trend doesn’t look like it will be leaving us anytime soon, a program similar to this is something every hotelier should consider.
Another thing to consider, and something that is typically overlooked, is the benefit of partnerships in helping create these guest profiles. Most loyalty programs only use data collected by the hotel to segment their customer bases, which puts them at a disadvantage. Partnering with other companies and services gives you as a hotelier the upper hand while also bringing in new customers to both parties. For example, partnering through a simple referral agreement with local retailers and restaurants gives you even more insight into what your guest prefers and expects. With this additional data that complements what you have already collected, you can create more robust guest profiles and create even more hyper-personalized loyalty programs for your customers, setting you apart from other hotel loyalty programs.
A New Opportunity
There is no doubt at all that the boom of post-pandemic travel is coming much sooner than we think. And with it, numerous travellers around the world have abandoned their previous loyalty programs due to their points expiring or not being happy with the rewards. Did we also mention the 59% of people surveyed by Oracle who said they didn’t even belong to any loyalty programs?
This is the perfect time to go back to the drawing board and create a strategy around your loyalty program that will engage this new group of “undecided” travellers. Whether you decide on a special offer or a sign-up bonus, make sure it’s meaningful and thoughtful. At the end of the day, the most successful loyalty programs will be personalized, experiential, and intelligent. The perfect hotel loyalty program will not be confined to just one step of the guest experience, but will be woven into all aspects of the customer relationship; from the moment they land on your website to after they have already checked out.