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Emotional Loyalty and the Hotel Industry

By Mark Johnson President, Loyalty 360 - The Loyalty Marketer's Association | April 25, 2021

Remember your last family vacation? There was likely at least one part that was a highly emotional experience that were excited about and maybe something you will recall to for a long time.

Travel can also be stressful, especially when things don't go as planned. From your check-in experience, the first time you step foot in the room, how the servers treated you, or maybe how an issue was resolved.

The travel industry has a benefit that some brands in other verticals do not: there are always opportunities to create and build memorable experiences and emotional connections with customers.

Most hotel and resort marketers agree that if a consumer has a "connection" with a particular brand, it is likely that the consumer will buy more from that brand over their lifetime. It is also relatively agreed upon that consumers have varying attitudes toward a brand or particular product; some have little or no preference for a brand and exhibit no awareness, while others have higher satisfaction with the brand's relevance and performance and thus are keenly aware of how the brand fits their need and their budget.

Further, there are consumers who tend to bond with a brand to the point of believing that the benefits of the products and brand are so unique and shared by few other brands that they develop an intense connection described as 'emotional loyalty.' The premise of emotional loyalty is well-known, but the challenge of getting to that "ultimate state" is complex, challenging, and requires a deeper understanding of rapidly changing customer dynamics.

The benefits of such a relationship between a brand and a customer are obvious: those with high levels of emotional loyalty do not easily switch to other brands. More importantly, they spread positive word-of-mouth about the brand and its products. Numerous studies have shown that consumers who are emotionally committed to a brand are known to engage in brand advocacy with other customers and influence others' purchase behavior.

While the benefits of emotional loyalty are clear, the challenge today is how to get there for many brands. There is significant difficulty navigating the processes, frameworks, resources, arcane technologies, terms, metrics, and know-how for their brand to build emotional connections with customers.

Perspective on Emotional Loyalty

Loyalty360, a member-led trade association that has brought brand marketers and technology firms together for over 10 years spoke to numerous top marketing officials in the hotel and resort industry about the emotional connection their customers enjoyed with them, and what they believe constitutes an "emotional loyal" customer.

Geoff Crossan, Group Vice President for Loyalty and Partnerships at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, says during the pandemic is an opportunistic time to really build and define loyalty with their members.

"We've approached it in a number of ways," Crossan says. "One is the 'Count on Us' initiative, which we launched earlier this year and was really a commitment that we're making to our members and our guests to show that we want to be clean and safe across all of our hotels."

The second is they are staying focused on their Wyndham Rewards offers and focused on leveraging those points offers to try to drive occupancy from their members and show them that they are here to support them.

"Continuing with that thought of supporting our members, we've made a number of program adaptions throughout the COVID timeframe," Crossan says. "We've extended our points expiration window. We've made member levels easier to achieve, and we've extended member level status for all of our members. We're really trying to show that Wyndham is here to support our members through all of this time."

Loyalty Is Difficult Because Every Human Is Very Different

Jamie Russo, Vice President of Loyalty Programs and Customer Engagement at Choice Hotels International, says emotional loyalty is fairly difficult because every human is very different and motivated by their own types of emotions.

"It's actually not something that's totally new in the hospitality sector," Russo says. "For years, hotels have been designing beds and experiences. What types of outlets they put in their hotels that really cater to what a customer wants, and those experiences in those that are the certain parts that guests are seeking out of a particular brand."

The real challenge, Russo says, is finding ways to create that kind of emotional loyalty that are not replicable in many respects. For example, they actually get requests for bedding for their hotels and the Comfort waffle.

"That's been a true hallmark and things people seek out - not just for transient travel - but also when they're with their families," he says. "I was on a recent panel before, and I mentioned the Comfort waffle; one of the other women who worked at a different company said, 'I remember that when I was growing up; that was one of the things I remembered with my family.'"

Another example Russo cites is with their types of customers, including those who are often heavy drivers to their properties and get into a parking lot and try to find out where they want to park. Choice Hotels now reserves the best spots now for their Elite members.

"Every single one of our hotels now has reserved parking upfront or closest to the best entry points to the hotel for our loyalty members," Russo says. "It's so that they feel that they're taken care of, and we know the things that are most important to them."

Have Definitive Goals For Customer Loyalty Programs

Marina MacDonald, Chief Marketing Officer at Red Roof, says they have very definitive goals for their customer loyalty program to reward customers, and one of the other goals for them is really making sure that they keep the program simple.

"There are so many programs, and we have to hold our selves back saying, 'okay, should we make it more complex at XYZ?'" MacDonald says. "For us, it's always 'let's hold back and really keep it as simple and as rewarding as possible.'"

She says when guests become members of their loyalty program, the number one thing they want is a hotel stay.

"We want to make sure that value proposition is always there for getting RediRewards exclusives, discounts, and getting extra things that are the most meaningful to them," MacDonald says. "These are the key goals for us. Let's make sure we're really listening to what our customers want, and what they want is simplicity."

Dorothy Dowling, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Best Western, says customer loyalty means a lot to the Best Western brand.

"When you look at the importance of loyalty marketing today, it is considered even more critical in this environment," she says. "When you look at most brand contributions across all different hotel segments, 70 to 80 percent of the volume that's materializing at hotels today is through loyalty customers."

Dowling says that when she steps back and thinks about how they define a loyal customer, they are focused on increasing their loyal customer base, mostly because they want to continue a conversation with the guests.

"We want to make sure we get an understanding of their needs and the reasons they stay with us," she says. "When travelers join our loyalty program, we gain a much deeper understanding of what motivates them, and as a result, we learn how to provide increased value, better messaging and more relevant offers."

No One-Size-Fits-All, Quick Fix to Customer Loyalty

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all, quick fix, or universal approach for hotel brands looking to create and maintain emotional loyalty. While there are several opportunities, partners, and solutions to support brands on their journeys, there are always obstacles and roadblocks – and even best-in-class brands that have a proven dedication to customer loyalty and experience must continuously refine their approaches while remaining steadfast in their commitment.

There is a realization from the brands and suppliers that the process works, but it is not simple. Marketers need to stay committed to their process and make sure they have measurable milestones to guide emotional loyalty decisions.

Technology and integrations are not only one of the most significant challenges marketers face when trying to drive emotional loyalty, but it is also one of the most challenging aspects of enabling customer loyalty overall. Technology gives brands the potential to continually evolve their loyalty programs. While customer loyalty strategies and programs have come a long way since the days of punch card programs, as technology changes, marketers need to keep pace with this rapid pace of change – a task easier said than done.

Additionally, there are many best-in-class technologies available today, but how can marketers determine the best fit, what will work with their current marketing stack, and what will successfully bring their vision to reality?

It is easy for marketers to get lost in today's Martech landscape of 8,000+ solutions, vague terminology, endless acronyms, and the arcane and disjointed RFP processes with multiple suppliers, all claiming to run brand x's loyalty or engagement program.

Drive Emotional Connections With Customers

However, for brands looking to be on cutting edge with a loyalty program or strategy that not only drives customer loyalty but also enables brands to drive emotional connections with customers, having the right pieces in place of their overall technology puzzle is crucial, but usually a challenge and always a work in progress.

Still, despite technology challenges, hotels are striving more so than ever to build that emotional loyalty. Crossan says by definition, hotels are an experiential product that they are selling, which also make it a more of an emotional connection.

"I think people definitely have strong emotional connections with the brands within our portfolio," he says. "Oftentimes I'll hear people thinking back to when they were kids taking road trips with their family, driving on the highway, and stopping at a Days Inn. And then it always kind of brings a smile to their face and thinking about what it was like to be doing that. I think there is definitely a strong, emotional connection that folks have with our brands."

Russo says it's also important for hotel brands to measure the success of their customer loyalty programs. He says Choice Hotels looks at a lot of the traditional KPIs such as who is joining their program, who the people that are in their program, and how are they staying active.

"And then we look at who's leading," Russo says. "Those are kind of the basic KPIs that we've always looked at. But what we started really digging into is 'who are the people that are truly loyal to us ?' Meaning, your multi-year active with us. And that base of people has consistently been growing over the last five years."

Lifetime Customer Value Measurement

He says more than half of Choice Hotels' active base are people who stay with them regularly year after year, which Russo says goes into more lifetime customer value measurement.

"But when you think about lifetime customer value, it's much harder in the hotel space because you don't see people as often as you do if they're using your credit card or doing something that's a high-frequency transaction, like going to your coffee shop," Russo says. "So we've had to be a little bit more scientific in how to interpolate between people's stays so that we can understand, are they really loyal to us? Are they captively loyal, or are they somebody who really loves us as a brand?"

For some brands, their biggest challenge in creating emotional loyalty is simply their business or industry itself. For example, while retailers and restaurants may have an easier time connecting with customers on an emotional level due to the nature of personal relationships or traditions, those in healthcare, manufacturing, or professional services potentially face challenges in creating an emotional reaction or bond with customers due to inherent factors of their industry.

Another issue for some brands is the reality of long purchase cycles, making it difficult to engage with customers regularly, allowing for positive experiences to build into a "piggy bank" of emotional loyalty value. With a low purchase frequency, some products are naturally less "top of mind" for consumers and may not necessarily be a passion that customers are invested in.

For brands to overcome these obstacles, a focus on positioning, communications, and attaining a deeper relationship with their customers across channels is imperative.

Mr. Johnson Mark Johnson is President and CEO of Loyalty 360 - The Loyalty Marketer's Association. Loyalty 360 is the only organization that addresses the full spectrum of both customer and employee loyalty issues. An unbiased, market driven clearinghouse and think-tank for loyalty and engagement opportunities, insights, and responses, Loyalty 360 is the source business leaders trust for industry metrics, market driven research, case studies, and networking opportunities. A sought-after speaker and writer, Mr. Johnson is frequently called upon by media worldwide to share his expert insights into customer and employee loyalty issues. can be contacted at 513-290-5147 or markjohnson@loyalty360.org Extended Biography

HotelExecutive retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.

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Any and all disputes or controversies of any kind, including but not limited to any performance, duty, obligation or liability arising under or related to this Agreement which are not first resolved informally, shall be determined by binding arbitration in San Francisco, California, in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association. The final award in any such arbitration proceeding shall be subject to entry as a judgment by any court or competent jurisdiction, provided that such judgment does not conflict with the terms and provisions hereof. The jurisdiction of the arbiter (or arbiters) with respect to legal matters shall be limited only by the statutory and common law of the State of California and the United States.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, any and all disputes, which the parties cannot informally resolve, regarding the scope of issues or matter with the jurisdiction of the arbitrator, shall be resolved by a separate dispute resolution process whereby HotelExecutive, in its sole discretion shall elect the dispute to be resolved by either (1) a court of competent jurisdiction in the State of California or (2) a panel of three new arbitrators.

This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California notwithstanding any conflict of laws provisions. You and HotelExecutive agree that the venue for all legal disputes, controversies, actions of any kind arising under or related to this Agreement shall be San Francisco, California. You and HotelExecutive further agree that in case of any litigation regarding this Agreement, you irrevocably and unconditionally (i) consent to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state and federal courts in the County of San Francisco, California for any litigation or dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, (ii) agree not to commence any litigation arising out of or relating to this Agreement except in the California Courts, (iii) agree not to plead or claim that such litigation brought therein has been brought in an inconvenient forum, and (iv) agree the California Courts represent the exclusive jurisdiction for all litigation relating to this Agreement.

11. MEMBERSHIP FEES

Hotel Business Review Subscriptions

If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.

12. PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION

Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Suzanne McIntosh
Zoe Connolly
Robert O'Halloran
Eugenio Pirri
Ajay Aluri
Norm Rose
Rachel Hodgdon
Coming up in May 2021...

Eco-Friendly Practices: Now More Than Ever

One theory about the pandemic states that future viruses are more likely to originate and flourish due to global warming. If true, the urgency to accelerate the adoption of eco-friendly practices is greater than ever. Of course, there are many other reasons to create a sustainable operation, including reduced utility costs, savings on operational costs, healthier and happier guests and employees, and positive publicity, marketing and community goodwill. Many hotels are introducing innovative programs into their operations - from recycling bins in guest rooms to starting a roof top garden. Other hotels are using eco-friendly cleaning products, reusing towels and sheets, sourcing locally grown food, supporting the use of electric vehicles, and permitting guests to refill their reusable water bottles with clean, filtered water. Finally, some hotels are encouraging guests to get involved by making it possible for them to participate in local community clean-up projects. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.