In today’s travel landscape independent hoteliers work very hard to win a direct booking. So when you do, it’s important to encourage the guest to come back directly again and again. The major hotel chains have been promoting loyalty for years with points-based rewards programs but how does a small, independent hotel create a loyalty program?

Here are 4 top tips.

Offer Value-Based Rewards

It may seem easier to offer a financial reward to a returning customer but this will bring eventual financial pressure if part of a long term strategy. Also it will become stale in time and the customer is likely to move on to another hotel offering more benefits and a better experience for their money.

The better option is to offer a value-based reward. Offering a bottle of wine on arrival or spa credits is giving the customer an experience which they’re more likely to remember. This perk is also more likely to give the guest favourable feelings towards the hotel. Why not get the guest to even choose their own loyalty reward offering a more personalised scheme.

Another sweetener to wow a returning guest could be a personalised gift such as handmade chocolates from the chef or a luxury welcome pack. This level of detail is bound to generate positivity from the customer and make them more likely to stay with you again or give you a glowing review.

Before deciding what incentive to offer have a look at your hotel reviews and see what really matters to your guests. Are you a city hotel where free parking matters most? Or perhaps you’re a romantic getaway destination where a bottle of bubbles would be appreciated. This might sound an expensive strategy but according to research it’s 7 times less expensive to keep an existing customer than acquire a new one.

Communication is Key

To deliver excellent service, hotels need to understand their guests and communicate with them early. A great starting point is to send a pre-stay email shortly after the guest has booked. This initiates the relationship and allows you to offer the guest helpful information on the hotel and destination. It also allows you to personalise their stay by asking them for any special requirements and reasons for their visit. This is essential information to make their stay more memorable and encourage future loyalty. Perhaps their visiting for an anniversary, can you make their stay more special? Or perhaps they used their personal email but are actually visiting for work. Use this opportunity to sign them up to your corporate loyalty scheme.

Guests should be able to communicate with you efficiently during their stay too, using both traditional offline and online channels. Hotels have experimented with everything from Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to their own proprietary chat options, showing that interest in direct text messaging is on the rise to resolve guest queries and complaints.

However customer service should not just be reactive. A proactive hotel is more likely to garner loyalty by going above and beyond expectations. What about an SMS message advising on the weather and traffic for the day ahead? Or a text advising them on the local festival starting that evening? 18% of guests want recommendations for local experiences which is something hotels shouldn’t ignore or leave up to Airbnb to deliver.

After the guests has departed it’s important to send a personalised post stay email thanking them for their visit, encouraging them to write an online review and also advising them about your loyalty scheme. Even if the feedback you receive is negative it will give you valuable insights into how to improve your guest experience going forward.  For more details on hotel reviews see here.

Keep it Simple

How many times have you avoided getting a loyalty card which could save you money because of time? There is a perception that loyalty programs are a headache and require long or multiple forms to fill in. Make sure your loyalty program requires minimum effort to sign up to and communicate the ease of the process in your marketing message.

If Not Loyalty Then Credibility

Younger travellers tend to show less loyalty to brands. They strive for experiential travel and often don’t want to have the same experience twice. This is hugely challenging to marketers promoting a loyalty program. However all is not lost. A different type of loyalty can also be garnered from this demographic in the form of online reviews. And when 95% of travellers make their booking decision based on guest reviews, this is a type of loyalty that will definitely keep your hotel profitable.

Conclusion

Independent hotels have unique flexibility and opportunities to build creative experiences for their loyal clientele. What can your hotel do?