Keeping loyal guests loyal in an age of expectations

Hotel loyalty programs have been an industry standard for almost half a century. It’s now expected that hotel chains offer some sort of incentive or reward to customers for remaining loyal to a brand. From simple perks like early check-ins to free nights or paying for your Starbucks with your points, loyalty programs have evolved. To keep up, hotel brands need to prioritize their relationship with their guests, learning their preferences and personalizing both the experience and the rewards in innovative ways.

Loyalty programs serve as an advantage to hotel companies and hotel owner-operators, but there’s much to be gained by the customer, as well. With more brand options available and an increase in competition, it’s no wonder guests are opting out of loyalty programs that don’t meet their needs. The first step in overcoming this is acknowledging the problem and proactively working to identify new methods to enhance a company’s loyalty program, ultimately driving increased member satisfaction and retention.

It is critical that hotel brands consistently survey consumers to garner insights into their loyalty programs. Best Western conducted a survey and, overall, the sentiment of participants ranged from positive to neutral—but one request stood out from the rest: Develop new ways to earn and redeem loyalty points.

What guests want

It is important that a brand further its commitment to evolving its loyalty program by offering new redemption options and superior benefits to members. One key element that can make a difference is expanding your guest’s earning potential. Brands can consider implementing innovative reward opportunities like the following:

Go green. Encourage members to help save the planet by rewarding those who opt out of housekeeping services or reuse their towels with a certain amount of points. It’s a win-win situation for the hotel, your customers and the environment.

Brand partnerships. Why limit reward opportunities to just hotel stays? Think about the customer journey and pinpoint other expenses for travelers like car rentals and airfare. Lock in partnerships with reliable companies to extend additional value that goes beyond the norm. While creating savings, these partnerships can lead to additional perks for members, such as redeeming gift cards for their favorite store, gas station or airline partner.

No expiration dates. Another way hotels can work to boost their loyalty programs is to ask themselves: Who is our customer? Are they a business or leisure traveler? What is important to them when choosing a hotel? Having this background will determine what direction hotels should take to provide options that are most beneficial for all. Taking a deeper dive to explore the habits of the brand’s guests and offering them something unique helps to take the loyalty program above and beyond. Many programs will deactivate or punish inactive customers. Instead, consider offering things like extending or eliminating expiration dates, or easy ways to upgrade status to entice active membership.

Business-specific loyalty programs. Segmenting out a loyalty program that is specifically designed for business travelers is a smart way to show you’re all about personalization and that you’re thinking about your customer. Companies or “road warriors” who book frequent travel for work purposes have specific needs and wants in a loyalty program. Perks and usage are different in this segment. Consider creating a business-travel program that gives specific perks to small and midsize companies for booking one of your properties. This type of program offers the account holder and the traveler points, giving perks to all involved in the travel planning and booking process. These points can be redeemed on future business stays, room upgrades, early check-ins and/or late checkouts.

Above all things a loyalty program can offer, the most important is to ensure that your guests are having a stellar brand experience. That is the ultimate factor that will determine if they continue to stick with you or leave, and it’s critical to personalize the experience all the way through, from booking through point redemption.

To hotels that are looking to innovate their loyalty programs, simply remember to listen to your customers. It seems easy, but is so often overlooked.

Dorothy Dowling is SVP/chief marketing officer, Best Western Hotels & Resorts. Dowling, a 30-plus-year hotel industry veteran, directs all marketing and sales strategies, overseeing the brand’s loyalty program, consumer and field marketing activities, advertising and public relations.

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