In this extract from the free-to-download Travel Performance Marketing digital supplement we explore the importance of customer loyalty in the travel marketing industry.

Building customer loyalty is the conundrum on every travel marketer’s lips. Holidaymakers are constantly on the lookout for price and convenience and won’t mind trying something new for an appeasing offer. On the business side, bigger budgets and more frequent travelling means employees could be more inclined to book with one airline or hotel over another if it makes for a better 18th foreign trip of the year. But there are opportunities for retention and building long-term relationships in all corners of this arena, providing the approach is right.  

The key, as always, is in offering value to the customer; making sure they’re well taken care of pre, during and post-purchase, while going the extra mile in order to earn their trust.

The loyalty challenge

Methods of improving customer loyalty in travel range from the very basic to the very complex, and it’s amazing how the ‘little things’ add up to create something unbeatable.

Developing loyalty pre-purchase can be done with offerings like price-match guarantees, speedy booking systems and personal touches at every point of communication. When selling contracts for broadband or mobile phones it’s common for new customers to be given the best deals. This doesn’t tend to be the case in travel, as handing over good offers to already engaged customers can prove more beneficial in the long term.

Hotels and airlines can keep their regulars happy by allowing seamless booking to be followed by online check-in. There’s even the chance to reel back disgruntled customers by identifying bad reviews, looking into the problems mentioned and finding a way of remedying the situation.

Beyond the basic levels of care, having active loyalty programmes, schemes and incentives in place can help travel companies broadcast their unique attributes and build stronger, more valuable communities.

Take the example of Hilton Hotels, applying particular focus to its ‘HHonors’ rewards programme and accompanying mobile app. Loyalty is bred through features such as mobile check-in for guests, who can also select their own room should they develop an affinity to a well-visited spot. More bookings equate to more points, and prizes come in the form of free nights at some of the group’s 4,250 properties worldwide. But Hilton doesn’t just focus on those already engaged with the brand; the campaigns that help promote HHonors attract their fair share of new customers as well.

“When we run a HHonors display programme, it’s important for us to identify our HHonors customers through the tracking that we have, and then it’s important that we display the correct messages for them,” claims James Maley, senior display & worldwide meta marketing manager at Hilton Worldwide.

“In a recent campaign we [Hilton] ran, we ensured that we tried to get sign-ups… Once they’re signed-up we try to engage with those customers. So we’re re-engaging with them once they’re signed-up, around a week later, by email and display to get them to sign-up to an HHonors promotion exclusive to the HHonors member.

“There’s a lot of investment from our side in that kind of space [loyalty] and we feel that’s the best way to win our customers and to win new acquisitions, as well as to say: ‘Hey, we’ve got a loyalty programme here, you’ll only get these benefits if you sign up’.”           

A spokesman from the hotel chain highlights that nearly a quarter of Hilton’s business is conducted via digital channels, but there’s no reason why this can’t increase with the help of the incentives that HHonors provides.

Valued members

Airlines have also grown accustomed to developing customer loyalty via digital channels and through the ‘little things’. In British Airways’ case it’s with a free, personalised app, which pairs online check-in, seat selection and boarding pass downloads with the delivery of customer-specific information such as gate notifications and Wi-Fi passwords, depending on where the traveller is located.

BA actually goes one further through partnerships with industry groups. The company’s ties with the oneworld alliance creates member exclusives like access to preferred seating, priority boarding, premium lounges and fast track at security lanes. Air mile collecting and tracking is available to all customers as standard, and through oneworld members such as Finnair Plus, airberlin.

Promoting ‘sign-ups’ and ‘sign-ins’ to mobile apps and loyalty programmes can even help in creating new opportunities for customer tracking, which invariably helps businesses find out what makes their customers tick and, more importantly, what they like to see.

But if customer loyalty was as easy as hiring a company to create an app or lowering prices, retention wouldn’t be the debate that has raged on for years. According to Louisa Lawson, senior affiliate marketing manager at Digitas LBi UK, it’s about finding an offer that fits, and this will differ between businesses.

“If low pricing isn’t a key offering from a brand then I would recommend offering a strong and reliable service to be a good substitute,” she states.

“It’s very consumer dependent; some will want the cheapest offering and not care about service or product, others will be the opposite end of the scale. So long as brands have a good understanding of what their customer looks like and what’s important to them, they should be able to identify their offering to match this.”

Lawson also points to efforts like creating responsive websites and advocating customer feedback as good ways of building loyalty aside from dedicated programmes. And with this in mind, there is a sense that the incremental building of loyalty can be done by improving service as a whole. After all, what better way is there to build loyalty than with a good experience?

Billions of people around the world will sample what the travel market has to offer this year, for business or pleasure. Their answer to the all-important question of ‘stick or twist’ will show whether service providers really did listen to their demands.

For further insight into marketing one of the industry’s largest sectors download the complimentary supplement, available here.

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