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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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.