The Importance of Hotel Loyalty Programs

By Jennifer Nagy President, jlnpr | March 04, 2012

Everyone in the hotel and hospitality industry knows that, more often than not, travelers book a hotel room based on two factors: price and location. Of course, there are travelers that would choose amenities over price any day, or those who are willing to drive a bit further to their destination to save a buck or two. But one factor that many hotels disregard is the importance of their customer loyalty program - also know as the frequent guest program (FGP) - in motivating customers’ purchasing decisions.

We are all familiar with the basics of a hotel frequent guest program: customers earn points for staying with a particular property or chain, which are redeemable for anything from discounts, upgrades, to a free stay. While most hotels have loyalty programs, most place very little importance on their loyalty programs as a driving factor for increasing consumer bookings. But the truth is that loyalty programs can be a very important decision-maker, especially for frequent travelers, often hotels’ highest-earning customers.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the stats:

In 2010, Epsilon Strategic & Analytic Consulting Group conducted a study of 400 travelers asking about their recent hotel bookings and found that, in addition to price, location, good reviews and recommendations from others, loyalty programs were absolutely a motivating factor in booking. In fact, the study showed that more than eight in ten program loyalty members consider the hotel’s loyalty program and rewards before booking their hotel(1).

A more recent study by Market Metrix has proven that hotel loyalty programs now rank fourth in the top deciding factors when booking a hotel. In 2009, 32.7% of customers said a hotel’s loyalty program influenced their decision on where to stay and that number has increased by almost 2% in the past two years(2).

What Makes Hotel Loyalty Programs Effective?

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Sales & Marketing: Opinions Matter

Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors manage a complex mix of strategies to attract and convert customers into guests. Part of their expertise includes an awareness of customer behavior during the reservation process, so they can make sure their hotel is favorably positioned. One such trend is the growing popularity of travel review sites. According to one recent survey, 61% of prospective customers consult online reviews in order to validate information about the hotel before making a purchasing decision. Another survey found that the average hotel customer reads between 6-12 reviews across 4-10 properties before making a final decision on where to stay. Similarly, other studies have shown that consumer reviews are a more trusted source of information for prospective customers than other kinds of marketing messaging. In fact, reviews are often considered to be as influential as price regarding whether a customer decides to complete a purchase or not. Plus, travel sites with the most reviews - including recent reviews from satisfied customers and thoughtful responses from staff - were also found to be the most appealing. So having positive reviews on a travel website is essential and can help to increase a hotel's conversion rates dramatically. Of course, there are all kinds of additional marketing strategies for sales and marketing directors to consider - the importance of video and the emergence of live streaming; the implementation of voice search; the proliferation of travel bots; and the development of Instagram as an e-commerce platform. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.