Loyalty programs are pervasive in the travel industry, with most programs barely differentiated from each other. Because they often require years of points accumulation before members collect enough to receive any benefit, very few of these programs inspire the type of ongoing relevance needed to break through the noise.
The problem is most programs are designed to reward loyalty to the brand, when they should exist to show the brand’s loyalty to its customers. That’s the statement one national hotel chain hoped to make when they launched their own loyalty program recently.
Here’s how this chain developed a valuable loyalty program that has saved its customers millions of dollars and more than doubled total membership in less than two years.
Launched in 2015, the loyalty program offers its members discounts on bookings at the hotel’s properties, as well as expedited check-in and guaranteed room preferences.
But to stand apart from other hotel loyalty programs, this hotel chain sought to engage members with relevant, local rewards in the proximity of their properties. Further, it wanted to garner long-term brand goodwill by rewarding members with lifestyle benefits even when they weren’t staying on the property.
The key to accomplishing this?
An everyday value component.
Recognizing that as much as 96% of the U.S. population uses coupons to be savvy and stretch their hard earned dollars, the chain began exploring the idea of integrating a members only discount program into their member benefits.
The solution needed to include discounts that people would actually use, which meant largely in-store and local offers, with a particular emphasis on hotel properties and surrounding areas.
A mobile component was also desired, and integration needed to be as simple as possible.
To bring this vision to reality, the hotel chain partnered with Access Development to add a national discount network to the loyalty program.
The Access network features over 350,000 merchant locations across North America—including over 245,000 that accept mobile coupons. Branded for the specific loyalty program, the network offers deals on dining, shopping, entertainment and more at merchants nearby 99% of the U.S. population.
“We knew a points-based program wasn’t going to work for our members, as we wanted to provide real and immediate value. Access is the only platform provider that had amassed a nationwide network of direct relationships with local merchants,” says a marketer from the hotel. “For this program to matter to our members, the discounts had to be at places they’re likely to frequent, which are primarily businesses in their own zip codes and businesses tied to our properties.”
The deals could be accessed via a custom web portal built by Access for the loyalty program. To make the program easier to use and attractive to modern consumers, a custom mobile coupon app was also built.
To create excitement around the new offering, the chain and Access partnered on an extensive marketing effort that utilized existing promotional “real estate” on hotel properties. The discount program benefit and select retail partners were featured at front desks, elevators, room keys, and in-room literature, as well as online and in regular emails.
The chain also worked with staff on key talking points about the program, including how to encourage guests to register and where they should go to learn more. Employees and managers were given incentives to register guests, including chances to win gifts, dinner, t-shirts, and even an all-inclusive trip to a tropical island.
Finally, to incentivize registration, the hotel chain and Access conducted a series of contests. New registrants were offered a chance to win vacations to major theme parks.
Over the course of less than two years, the program’s membership doubled from 750,000 to over 1.5 million, with participating members experiencing an average savings of $16 per transaction made at participating merchants.
Today, loyalty program members account for over 30% of the chain’s total revenue.
“This benefit gives our members a reason to engage with our program 365 days a year, whether they’re staying on our property or not,” says the markting representative. “Many of our members have offset the cost of several stays through their savings at restaurants and retailers. It’s a unique advantage and keeps us top of mind for when they are ready to make their next booking.”
The ongoing marketing efforts continue to pay dividends as well. Loyalty program members receive weekly promotional emails featuring new and popular deals to drive ongoing usage and engagement. Those emails enjoy click-through rates of more than 4.35%, which is 107% above industry standards for Leisure, Travel and Tourism marketing emails, and 129% higher than all marketing emails, according to statistics compiled by Mailer Mailer.
Moving forward, Access and the hotel chain plan to continue to enrich the loyalty program’s discounts with more relevant and valuable content, such as more local restaurants.
“The Access discounts give our members a reason to engage with our brand every day, even if they’re at home,” the marketing representative says. “They don’t have to fuss with points or miles or worry about blackouts. The value is always there, and so is our brand.”