It is often said there is a silver lining inside every cloud. This could certainly be the case for how loyalty marketers come to view customer programs and, most importantly, the sentiment of their traveling consumers in the new world that lies ahead after the COVID-19 pandemic. Restarting the travel industry from essentially zero occupancy is a daunting task. And picking your battles, identifying areas open to disruption, and prioritization of scarce resources will be high on the minds of business leaders as the industry reemerges.
Today’s crisis necessitates the need for brands to build in and showcase their commitment to traveler safety. Airlines have always recognized safety above all else, albeit often subliminally, and this will need to be an industry’s number one priority. As travel activity begins to pick back up, consumers will expect consistent delivery of the highest standards of health and hygiene. The travel industry will need to place this fundamental commitment at the core of its brand promise.
And here’s where an opportunity emerges. Hospitality companies, for example, have always struggled to firmly integrate their portfolio of hotel brand offerings with a single loyalty program promise. It’s easy to understand why—a spectrum of brands all searching for differentiators and emotional connections with their customers bumped up against a single, umbrella loyalty program offering, principally built around transactions and a currency to earn and burn. Probably not the most compatible of partners, and consumers often don’t really discern between the two.
Progressive travel companies are seeing the benefit of investing in consumer-facing loyalty brands (for example: Delta SkyMiles, Marriott Bonvoy, Accor ALL) acting as a proxy master-brand to unlock and gain access to a wide array of offerings. However, as travel brands are now being expected to market, deliver, and honor a health and hygiene promise, marketers may be wise to consider building this theme into their program proposition:
- Upon check-in, imagine if members were provided with a welcome package of hygiene-related products along with the customary packaged water and snacks. A signal from a brand that they care, they listen, and they are your true travel companion. Now that’s a brand with a conscience that cares.
- Complimentary breakfast room service may well become a reality for elite members, providing a valuable and valued enhancement to a program’s offer, enabling members to avoid common use breakfast bars and restaurants.
- Consider dedicated outdoor member areas for guests looking to get out of their room but not necessarily the hotel. Hotels could well find an opportunity to uncover or create ambient outdoor spaces for their guests as a safe and secure alternative for consumers mindful of health and hygiene. The hotel design of the future could start to look very different.
- A digital app that enables access to touch-free check-in, room entry, in-room control, and check-out will become an essential aspect of a brand’s offering as well as an alternative method for members to engage with a hotel brand. Some innovative players like Hilton (an ICF Next client) are already well advanced, having launched the first iteration of their digital key product to members back in 2015. Consider this an expected and standard industry loyalty offering in a post-pandemic world.
Loyalty programs are built to activate customer engagement. Currency in the form of points and miles have always taken center stage as a means to drive revenue and influence member behavior. Pre-pandemic, these engagement programs were beginning to evolve into lifestyle offerings by finding innovative ways to present value to their customers well outside pure transactional recognition for revenue. That pursuit will no doubt continue post-pandemic. The foundational need-state centered around health and hygiene will emerge—not just signaling an emotional and empathetic connection by brands in search of engagement—but a solution for a traveling consumer in search of recognition and peace of mind.