Despite ongoing COVID-19 challenges, it’s time for hoteliers to concentrate on customer engagement and loyalty strategies to aid recovery. As more people begin travelling again, they’ll have a heightened expectation about the experience, so it’s paramount that hotels address changing consumer needs with regard to travel. As such, updated loyalty programs are key to building long-term relationships, boosting guest retention and ultimately increasing profit margins in a post-pandemic world.

While there are many strategies behind designing loyalty programs, ensuring it caters to different consumer needs and motivations is fundamental to a program’s success. Marketing strategies that will guarantee the longevity of a loyalty program include using a tiered approach, providing flexibility, offering personalized experiences, implementing technology and receiving customer feedback. For travellers seeking added value, Hilton Hotels, Choice Hotels Canada and Accor Hotels are re-positioning their loyalty programs to restore customer confidence.

Honouring Loyalty
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hilton Hotels has been adjusting its Hilton Honors program to meet the needs of its members. The program offers three elite status levels: Silver Elite, Gold Elite and Diamond Elite, allowing members to earn points on hotel stays and unlock a number of benefits including fifth night free, room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, rollover nights and more.

“The pandemic provided a unique opportunity for loyalty programs to prove their value and commitment to their members,” says a Hilton spokesperson. “Loyalty is a two-way street and Hilton wants our members to know we’re loyal to them, just as they’ve been loyal to us.”

Most recently, Hilton Honors extended status and points expiration to provide members with more time to enjoy perks and benefits while travel restrictions still remain in many parts of the world. Hilton Honors also extended benefits for co-branded credit-card holders, slashed 2021 status qualifications in half, lowered milestone bonus night thresholds and status gifting and modified the MyWay dining benefit to offer a complimentary daily food-and-beverage credit until the end of 2021.

“Based on member and market feedback, the changes have been positively received,” says Hilton spokesperson. “By providing greater flexibility and value during an unprecedented time, members feel valued and appreciated.”

Furthermore, Hilton Honors members can access money-can’t-buy experiences through Hilton’s partnership with Live Nation. In fact, the program is offering ticket packages to several upcoming music festivals, such as EDC in Las Vegas and Ohana Festival in California.

The pandemic has also accelerated the need for contactless options, however, Hilton Honors has been delivering a contactless experience with its app since 2015, where guests can check-in, select a room and use a digital key from their mobile device.

“Engaged members don’t come naturally. As a brand that aims to meet our members where they are, we must listen to them and act on what we learn,” says Hilton spokesperson[need name. “Our industry is competitive, dynamic and growing, and we’ll continue to focus on what will drive the most value for our guests.”

Privileged Few
Choice Hotels actively promotes opportunities to earn and save through its Choice Privileges loyalty program. Early on in the pandemic, Choice Privileges status and points expiration was extended for Elite members until the end of the year so they still have the option to redeem a free night, luxury stay, gift cards and more.

“Loyalty programs are thriving. They have an important role to play in welcoming guests back to travel. Loyalty isn’t necessarily just about a brand. It’s also about the experience and which program can bring that to life,” says Julie Chan-McConnell, senior director, Commercial Strategy & Performance, Choice Hotels Canada. “As guests return to travel, it’s crucial for loyalty programs to proactively provide members with greater flexibility and practical rewards that help them engage with brands in new ways, while also defraying costs through free travel or bonuses.”

Choice Hotels Canada also developed a program that provided the hotel with resources to connect with local attractions and marketing-tourism organizations (MTOs) to create stay packages that not only add extra value for guests but also support struggling tourism businesses.

“Loyalty is incredibly important as the hospitality sector continues to rebuild back to pre-COVID levels. We believe consumers will continue to turn to established, well-known and trusted brands as they start to travel again,” says Chan-McConnell. “Because of COVID, we know we’re seeing new types of customers and new ways of travelling. But at the core, recognizing and rewarding guests is still critically important. Guests still want to be acknowledged and appreciated for their business.”

Choice Privileges is working to integrate more personalization throughout the digital guest experience to continue on this upward trajectory.

“It’s crucial, as consumers continue to return to travel, that guests are served the right offer at the right time for their needs, in addition to information relevant to their stay and destination. This includes messaging at every touchpoint from the pre-stay and curated destination content, to the experience at the front desk, to the mobile directory with information on the property and the market, which guests can access from a QR code in the room. And of course, additional follow up with guests after their stay for their feedback,” says Chan-McConnell. “Everything is designed to allow guests to engage the way they want to, whether through mobile, tablet or laptop.

Accor launched Accor Live Limitless (ALL) in January 2020 to offer a variety of rewards, services and experiences to its members, marking a shift from a traditional to lifestyle loyalty program. ALL also includes a newly designed app and website, allowing members to access Accor’s portfolio and its collection of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and money-can’t-buy experiences.

In fact, ALL members can earn points in restaurants and bars without staying in the hotel. In North America, Accor has expanded this offering to include golf. However, with ongoing COVID-19 restrictions disrupting the ability for members to accumulate points, ALL pivoted to protect membership benefits.

“We recognized that the pandemic would have a material impact on our members,” says Sabrina Lillew, vice-president, Loyalty Programs, Accor North & Central America. “Loyalty should be reciprocal, so we felt it was important to protect the status and benefits that our members had rightfully earned, but would not be able to enjoy.”

ALL’s emphasis on lifestyle doesn’t go unnoticed, and its experiences are rooted in three main categories: live, work and play. Because ALL does not require its members to stay at the hotel, the company can extend its reach and attract new customers.“You don’t need to stay in one of our hotels to enjoy the benefits of ALL,” says Lillew. “The program is designed to anticipate customers’ needs, whether they are at home or on the road. It’s really about empowering our guests to live life to the fullest.”

By Nicole Di Tomasso


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