Integrating Mobile with an Existing Loyalty Program

By Vanessa Horwell Founder & Chief Visibility Officer, ThinkInk & TravelInk'd | October 02, 2011

Hotels need to take advantage of the strategic opportunities that the mobile channel offers in regards to their existing loyalty program. Not in 2012 or the next quarter, but right now. Customer loyalty is shrinking: in this recessionary period, the industry's promotional mix is no longer skewed primarily towards the product, but rather it has shifted (harshly, I might add) to favor price, in the form of heavy discounting, which erodes loyalty across all brands.

Further adding to the problem is the attitudinal malaise by customers regarding loyalty programs. Across industries, including hotels, there are 1.8 billion loyalty program memberships, a number that continues to rise. This fact, accompanied with a recent Chief Marketing Officer Survey that shows a whopping thirty-two percent of participants feel that the programs offer "little to no value," leads to the conclusion that there are a lot of disengaged loyalty program participants in this world.

There's no doubt that integrating mobile into a hotel's loyalty program is a natural progression-in fact, hotels should be integrating mobile throughout operations and marketing, creating what I have often referred to as the "Mobile Front Desk. (http://hotelexecutive.com/business_review/2592/the-mobile-front-desk-the-effect-on-the-hotel-brand /)" Mobile is fast becoming a preferred channel for hotel consumers: the 2010 Frequent Traveller Survey by Loylogic shows that 20% of travellers prefer to check, earn, and redeem loyalty points via their mobile devices (mobile was second to "online," at 58%).

Mobile: A Channel of Immediacy (and Choice)

With mobile becoming a channel of choice, hotels are constantly striving to balance "rapid" customer choice with operational efficiency. I use the term "rapid" because the mobile channel exponentially speeds up customer decisions and hotels must react quicker to an ever-compressing booking window. Think about it this way: in reality, with mobile, the customer can stand (or park) outside the hotel and instantly perform a comprehensive search (including customer and expert reviews of the hotel's service, price, quality, etc.) to see if the it meets his or her lodging preferences. With this power at their fingertips, mobile customers are less constrained by traditional trip planning standards. Because they are able to tap valuable information at a moment's notice, regardless of their location, mobile customers are more comfortable leaving entire segments of their travel relatively unplanned. In response, hotels seeking to expand their loyalty program into the mobile realm must cater to this customer base by structuring mobile rewards and points around rapid mobile booking.

With this in mind, it's important to know that the mobile channel in hotel reward programs has arrived; however, simply integrating mobile with an existing loyalty program is not enough-it's a two-way street-the existing program needs to also be integrated with mobile.

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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.