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.

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." (see 8 Hotel Executives Say Where Hotel Loyalty is Headed Next ). 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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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. 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.