The travel and hospitality industries have long offered shining examples of the power of the loyalty program. Remember the 2009 movie “Up in the Air”? The quest for airline and hotel points essentially spawned its own subculture.
With valuable perks like free flights and stays, lounge access, upgrades and more at stake, it’s no wonder consumers were onboard with engaging in travel companies’ “clubs” and mileage programs. In fact, in 2019 – a full decade after George Clooney laid bare the hidden desire for elite travel status – 82% of travelers said they enjoyed travel loyalty programs, with 81% especially valuing the rewards they got.
When travel bans and shutdown orders went into effect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this dynamic changed seemingly overnight. Travelers effectively stopped traveling, and they’ve been slow to return to their old habits due to a combination of health concerns and federal mandates.
In turn, points accumulation and redemption have stuttered. It makes sense that when travelers stay home, points programs and perks like lounge access lose their effectiveness. The legacy tactics that were the bread and butter of travel loyalty programs may have come to a stop, but that doesn’t mean travel loyalty programs are dead. It simply means it’s time to innovate.
The fundamental goal of these programs is to provide value and resources to customers, engage with them, and ultimately create trust and loyalty as an outcome that fuels business. There are still ways to reach those goals – even when travelers aren’t traveling.
Travel rewards were historically tied to travel itself – both in how they were acquired and redeemed. Now, however, is a good time for travel and hospitality companies to think outside the confines of their own industry.
Consider leveraging partnerships to shift focus from points acquisition purely through travel, to rewards based on everyday purchases. A network effect will not only allow for faster accumulation and shorter time to “payouts,” but also keeps customers engaged and your brand visible, regardless of whether consumers are coming to you directly.
On the flip side, these relationships can also be leveraged to allow air miles or hotel points to be redeemed for other items where customer need or desire may have a stronger pull in the near term – such as groceries or home improvement.
Bend the Rules
With all that’s going on in the world, the last thing consumers need is more fine print to worry about. Maybe they missed a deadline for rebooking a trip they’re no longer taking or want a refund for reasons that fall outside of your typical terms of service. Being more flexible with policies and more empathetic in your interactions will make their experience and impression of your brand much more positive.
Part of exceeding expectations in this endeavor is understanding each touchpoint the consumer has with your brand, and personalizing interactions based on that knowledge. For example, if a consumer tags your brand in a comment on Twitter about having to rebook, arming your customer service team to acknowledge that comment when they call to actually make the change shows you’re listening to what they’re telling you directly.
Put Safety First
Businesses are taking action towards putting health and safety first, but it’s important to also emphasize those safety measures in your communication efforts. Proactively sharing sanitation practices, “touchless” technologies, and other safety protocols you’ve put in place can put customers at ease and let them know you’re prioritizing their wellbeing.
These communications should not only live on your homepage, but also be shared across any channel the consumer uses to engage with your brand – from email, to mobile, to social.
By putting these best practices into place, travel and hospitality companies can continue to build trust and loyalty with consumers – even if they aren’t traveling. These moves will ultimately set your brand up for success as consumers grow more confident and comfortable traveling again.