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Brand Loyalty Programs: Let the Customer Work for You (Contributed by Cesar Tenorio)

One of the biggest issues that the hotel industry has been facing today is the lack of guest retention to a certain brand.  With the added competition of online travel agencies (OTA's) today, hotels are scrambling to try and get guests to stick around for more reasons than just room rates and complimentary Wi-Fi.
 
Cue in the loyalty program: a business technique that awards those returning guests through free parking, free snacks, a fancy name, and you guessed it, complimentary Wi-Fi.  However, even with the opportunity with all the perks and salty snacks that a hotel offers, marketing researchers are still scratching their heads as to what will make people not only prefer a certain brand, but also desire it.  It strongly poses the question, what do we have to do next? Or what new thing can we offer? Maybe it's time to start asking, is it time to step back and view the issue in a new lens?

To begin, we need to boil down this issue to its core: satisfying the guests' wants in a unique way.  I observed how many loyalty programs offer generally the same amenities along with the same customer service.  This leaves customers with no choice but to base loyalty programs off of price and free nights than rather the distinguishable experience that the hotel strives for.  Additionally, with the rapid advancement of technology, companies are slowly implementing online strategies to differentiate themselves.  The answer? Companies need to take some time to rethink their online presence and generate a solid, online game plan to stay ahead of the competition.

According to Access and Fast Company statistics, 66% of 18-24 year olds are more loyal to companies with a strong social media presence.  Meanwhile, the fastest growing demographic on Twitter consists of those in the 55-64 year old age bracket.  As you scroll down the tons of stories on Facebook or view the amount of Twitter 'favorites' a single tweet generates from Justin Bieber's latest arrest, the fact seems apparent that online social media is how people quickly  communicate today.  It has no longer become a hobby, but a lifestyle.  More and more people are implementing social media into their lives ranging from posting pictures of adorable puppies on Facebook to young women incorporating Pintrest ideas into their weddings.  If every brand boasts of such a unique culture, why not let guests become a part of it?  Better yet, why not let them take the wheel and drive?

It is a common rule of thumb that one satisfied guest may speak with two people about their experience, but will tell twenty people if they had a bad stay.  With the advantage of social media, those satisfied guests can now tell hundreds of people on a single media source.  The catch?  To find the motivation for guests to pull out their media device and capture moments that you want captured.

One of the more straight forward techniques is to visually impress the guest so that they will take a picture and share it with their friends.  Want to take it one step further?  Actively encourage guests to share their experiences through social media by taking photos of their drinks, views from their hotel room, and their trips that they embark while they're out of the hotel.  Is there a bartender who can serve drinks while performing tricks?  Let the guests take a Snapchat video of the bartender expertly tossing bottles around and finish the spectacle by pouring a perfect long island iced tea.  Another way to get guests incorporated is by asking what plans future guests have when they stay at a particular hotel.  Even a simple 'Tag someone you love/know' while posting a picture of a popular destination is enough to get people talking and start tagging their friends.  The idea is participation in the organization.  The more that people are incorporated into the hotel culture, the more they will feel inclined to return to a certain brand. 

One amazing thing that I have seen is how small operations are able to have a hold on so many followers.  One Instagram user that I am impressed is Beautiful Destinations.  They have over a million followers on Instagram and the only things they post are beautiful photos of various locations around the world and ask their followers to tag someone else.  They constantly update their feed two or three times a day all while receiving over 10k favorites on at least every photo.  Large name brands such as Hilton and Marriott have just over 5K followers.  The demand for a shift towards a new loyalty program is higher than ever before.

What do you think would be a huge factor in guest retention?  Do you think small business tactics such as Beautiful Destinations would work for a large name brand?  Do you think social media can play a part in guest retention?

About the Author

Cesar Tenorio is a full-time undergraduate student at the Collins College of Hospitality Management in California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he is currently pursuing a degree in Hospitality Management.  He has held several different positions on campus including Resident Advisor, Orientation Leader, Executive Director for the Up 'Til Dawn fundraising event, and more.  He also held an internship position this past summer in the selective Hilton Worldwide program.  He has also received scholarships from both The Collins College and the American Hotel & Lodging Association.  Cesar currently aspires to receive a management program upon graduation and pursue an MBA in Finance.

References:
Lodging Staff. "Your Good Name." Lodging. n.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.
Wengen, Deidre. "Building Guest Loyalty in the Digital Age." Lodging. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.
Cooper, Belle B. "10 Surprising Social Media Statistics That Will Make You Rethink Your Social Strategy | Fast Company | Business + Innovation." Fast Company. N.p., 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
Carter, Brandon. "The Access Loyalty Blog." The Access Loyalty Blog. N.p., 21 Nov. 2013. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.

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