Loyalty cards got introduced in the last century as part of The Guest Retention Plan. It became a plastic symbol of credibility and lifestyle. If you were a business traveller and could present your Hotel Loyalty Card, the receptionist seemed to be extra friendly. The room had a smell of roses, and the hotel staff did their extra best to make you feel at home during your stay. But a Loyalty Card was given to business travellers only. That piece of plastic was part of their outfit, the Loyalty Card together with an Airmiles Card, a Car Rental Card and of course a Company Credit Card.
For young travellers, business or leisure is born after 1981, plastic is out. The Millennials, the Selfies or the Hashtag generation have a mobile-driven lifestyle, anything they can do with their phone, they’ll do it. If they can pay with Paypal, they’ll do it. If they can use their mobile phone as a digital door key, they’ll use it. If you have podcasts and routing maps of the city available to download with their Bluetooth connection; they’ll install it. Innovation is embraced by this group because they know new technology will bring them more comfort and more speed to organise the things they like.
Unfortunately, many hotels are emotionally attached to the plastic* Loyalty Card*. The old way of thinking is that only business clients deserve a Loyalty Card. Hotel managers look at the IT structure to register and accumulate points or stars for the business guest; they remember the operation Loyalty Card in those days. And in the backroom are 20.000 Loyalty Cards waiting in a box, ready for the future. But the future does not like plastic.
Our advice is to treat every guest special; create loyalty using digital social technology. If you have doubts, offer a choice: “Do you want our plastic loyalty card or do you want to become a member of our digital community?” Maybe traditional senior travellers prefer a card for now, but in the end they will follow the younger generation. To those who are keen to join, you don’t call it digital community, that is how we call it internally. It has to be an appealing Clubby name that fits within your branding and brand promise. And a community name that is still available on the most important social media channels. A nice task for a creative team.
When you introduce the digital community, make sure to explain them the advantages. That they become a little bit a local citizen and will receive weekly information about the city, plus interesting offers and packages for them and their friends. There are many ways to register; easiest is to have an Ipad or tablet available for this purpose only.
After the registration (check for errors in the e-mail) you tag the guest in your database system for a specific group; business travel, family holidays, young couples etc. If you don’t have a data system that can do that, let us show you some budget friendly on-line solutions.
With a cloud based basic database that contains first name, last name, mail address and sort of guest, you are ready to go. Once you see that the concept of a digital community and personalisation works for your hotel, you can always scale up and export the data into a larger IT system or structure.
The trick to staying in touch with every hotel guest is to be relevant and inspirational; it is essential to create editorial guidelines for your content strategy. Because once you start, you can not stop. Discipline and creativity are essential to be successful. Send your guests personalised information; a mix of general and specific content. General content could be a weekly update with the local news, expositions, parties, the weather report and of course your own upcoming activities.
In addition, there is specific content; a teaser that reinforces memories of services you gave to them; from sandy beaches to romantic restaurants and from silent rooms to ironing services. Of course, every contact moment will have a social call to action: either an invitation to book again and receive something extra. Or a digital coupon to invite their friends or colleagues to book a room with a free entrance to the spa or another service. Also Think about bartering; if you don’t have a spa or gym, ask a local gym to participate in your community. One free ticket in return for some publicity is easy to organise.
The basic idea is to create added value, demonstrate your services and reward the guests instantly. Young people don’t have time to collect points; they want instant satisfaction. And if it was great, your hotel guest will share it directly on Instagram or any other social network with #yourhotelname.
Now you might think that giving away things like a bottle of wine in your restaurant or a free city bike for a day is too much. Think about this; you pay 15 or 20% commission for your already discounted room to an Online Travel Agent. It is better to use this ‘budget’ to create added value for your guests and their network. It stimulates to book directly with you because they get something more valuable, something an OTA can’t give; personal attention and a deal with an additional service. Of course, you need to know what services appeal to your guest; that’s why they can update their profile online.
There are many advantages of having a community instead of a loyalty card. It is more visual, it can be shared, it saves money and the environment: no more plastic Loyalty Card. Guest response can be measured plus, you have a constant direct line with people that already know your hotel. At Hotelmarketing support, we’re often surprised (or should we say, a bit disappointed) about missed opportunities for a hotel to stay in touch. After we stayed in a nice luxury hotel with friendly staff and good service, we wave goodbye and never hear anything again. While we said on our way home: ‘It was great, we should come there again’. But because the hotel forgot us, we forget the hotel.