Hotels Turning To Mobile To Build Loyalty

Hotels, like their airline counterparts in the travel industry, are known for relying on loyalty programs to keep customers coming back. To keep up with the consumer shift to mobile, many have also introduced apps that let people book rooms and get relevant information and services on their smartphones.

But hotels still have work to do connecting loyalty programs with mobile properties, according to a new study by digital think tank L2. Based on its analysis of 66 prestige hotel brands, it found that three-quarters (76%) had loyalty programs available for open enrollment, with several in addition offering private programs.

While nearly all hotels with loyalty programs had mobile sites, one out of three did not allow access to the loyalty program or login from the booking engine. And only half allowed the use of loyalty points from a mobile site’s booking service. Similarly, on the app side, about a third did not connect to the loyalty program or account details, and only 28% allowed booking using loyalty points.

When it comes to signing up, the study found that about two-thirds of hotel brands offer enrollment though their optimized mobile sites. They’re also marketing via mobile. Starwood, for example, launched an Instagram campaign promoting its loyalty program with geo-tagged photos featuring the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) hashtag.

The L2 report argues that integrating loyalty programs with mobile and online booking is just the low-hanging fruit, and that savvy brands are raising the bar with apps that can improve the in-stay experience. Hilton Worldwide recently made a splash in that regard, announcing that guests will soon be able to check in, choose their exact room and make special requests from smartphones and tablets.

And next year, Hilton will add the ability for people to unlock their hotel rooms with their smartphones. Starwood’s Aloft Hotels is among other companies testing keyless check-in technology that would allow users to open room doors simply by holding the phone in front of the lock. The capability is currently only available to select SPG members.

Overall, only 19% of hotel booking apps studied are piloting mobile check-in at their properties, although 70% of travelers are interested in that feature.

Hotels are also tapping into mobile/social platforms as part of their customer service efforts around loyalty programs. On Twitter, for instance, Hilton’s @HiltonHonors has amassed 65,000 handles, while Starwood’s @spg stands out for having an average response rate twice the category average (27% versus 13%).

In China, InterContinental Hotels Group uses popular messaging app WeChat to promote its loyalty club and cater to members through features including a live chat tab handling customer inquiries.

In the big picture, the L2 study suggests mobile is a logical extension of hotels’ loyalty programs, and that those programs pay dividends. It cited a study earlier this year by the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University showing revenue from frequent hotel guests increased 50% annually after joining a loyalty program compared to those who didn’t.

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