Win the Connected Traveler with Connected Loyalty Strategies

By Allison Ferguson Senior Strategist, Merkle Inc. | March 19, 2017

“Travel in the young is part of education, in the elder a part of experience.” Francis Bacon made this observation in the 17th century, and it resonates now. Travel today is a highly aspirational, emotional, and educational experience. However, today’s experience is largely a digital one, which is evolving our roles as hoteliers and marketers at the very pace of innovation. We must constantly use people-based marketing to re-imagine how we connect with travelers and inspire them to connect in return.

There is much in play to win the hearts, minds, and spend of the digital or so called “connected” traveler, who controls an estimated $180B global stay spend on hotels, vacation rentals, and packages (Statista Market Outlook, 2016)). Hotel companies, via their loyalty programs, have the opportunity to become the hub for the self-service, end-to-end experience of the connected traveler.

Here is a look at connected loyalty strategies that will make the difference for today’s hotel brands, large or small.

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Loyalty is Connected to the Digital Experience and the End-to-End Journey

Connected Loyalty means that the loyalty program is intimately tied to digital and to the end to end experience. Skift recently held a discussion with eight hotel executives on the future of their loyalty programs and observed that, “[Loyalty is] a unifying strategy that, for many, is absolutely crucial to the short- and long-term success of their businesses.” (“8 Hotel Executives Say Where Hotel Loyalty is Headed Next,” February 6, 2017) Surely, loyalty has evolved into an enterprise strategy and complex marketing science that intersects with both the digital and the end-to-end travel journey.

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Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.