The Return of Incentive Travel: Using Hotel PMS to Manage and Retain Customers at Independent Hotels

Loyalty programs offer many opportunities for hotels to grow their customer base and better interact with travelers. A recent study shows 77% of hoteliers value guest retention as their #1 technology initiative for 2022. Unfortunately, independent hotels often struggle to set up their own effective loyalty program. These programs can be complicated to launch and difficult to maintain, which can be difficult for independent operators to justify despite their potential to cement future bookings with customers and create a healthier booking landscape overall. A strong loyalty program may be just what hotels need to recover reservations lost in the shuffle in 2020 and beyond.

Many hotels in the area have also had their reputations damaged during the pandemic. Guests who traveled during this time often encountered a variety of inconsistent hotel experiences, and while the lure of “revenge travel” has some seeking new experiences, the majority of travelers today seek consistency. Loyalty programs excel at setting logical expectations for a guest’s stay, improving their overall experience, and enticing others to join.

One problem: not all loyalty programs are created equal. The best in the business offer a mix of rewards ranging from instant gratification to long-term goals. For independent hotels to have a fully effective loyalty strategy in the post-pandemic market, it is important to have an integrated system PMS system allowing guests to develop their relationship with the hotel during every transaction and interaction, including before and after the stay, and during their on-site experience from any of the outlets or amenities offered.

Experiential integrations

Traditionally, the essential equipment for hotels to retain customers is access to free Wi-Fi. This offer has gradually become devalued in the eyes of travellers, who increasingly expect free Wi-Fi access wherever they go. While still an effective draw to increase member loyalty, hotels need to be prepared to offer more than that in the long run. Otherwise, they risk limiting their loyalty program to an on-site Wi-Fi guardian, not a service that is actively working to increase traveler loyalty.

An effective hotel loyalty program offers guests a variety of ways to earn and enjoy rewards. Points and cash reward systems remain popular with travelers, but whether they have a direct impact on loyalty is debatable. Hotels should also offer incentives for repeat bookings, such as free nights for hotel restaurant credit, upscale in-room amenities, in-house spa, gift shop, room upgrades, room and other services depending on the hotel and its location.

Independent hoteliers looking to implement a more robust loyalty program should check their Property management system is equipped to handle the necessary processes. Some PMS providers offer fully integrated loyalty programs that allow hoteliers to reduce the number of third-party services they work with to deliver a high-quality guest experience while eliminating transaction fees associated with the program. It’s also important to make sure that your PMS can integrate its loyalty capabilities with other systems, including other point-of-sale systems, games, ticketing, and any other system to promote your loyalty program and to bring unique value to customers. Operators should first clearly define what they want their loyalty program to mean for their customers, then thoroughly research PMS vendors with the built-in capabilities that meet their needs, third-party integrations to meet their goals, and most likely both.

These capabilities can help independent hotels offer loyalty rewards that remain competitive with major brands if operators are fully committed to launching and sustaining the system.

Build momentum

Loyalty programs are usually easy for a hotel’s marketing department to manage once they’re in place, but getting there can be a challenge for independent operators. The onus is on these hoteliers to define and implement their own loyalty program from scratch, and in most cases, it’s not for the faint-hearted. These programs power (and power) almost every department in a hotel. Therefore, a strong internal organization – and possibly external consulting experience – is often necessary for a loyalty program to be implemented effectively and efficiently.

Despite this, the benefits of an effective loyalty program can be transformative for a hotel. The main benefit of hotel loyalty programs is the ability to build long-term profiles about your customers, their preferences, and how best to serve them. By progressively filling out customer profiles over repeat stays, operators can anticipate their needs before they arrive. This includes amenities waiting at check-in, as well as targeted promotional communications sent to travelers prior to their trip, designed to increase engagement once they are there.

If a guest typically likes to order room service, for example, the hotel’s loyalty program can track that information with a fully integrated system. PMS-solution which provides a 360 degree view of the guest. An establishment’s marketing team can then send email offers or reminders directing them to on-site restaurant offers and promotions. Even something as simple as acknowledging a guest at check-in and offering a verbal note about a positive experience during a previous stay can help travelers feel valued and gain loyalty.

Many independent hotels and resorts have yet to fully realize the potential of loyalty programs on repeat bookings as few properties are able to exceed expectations in the post-pandemic hotel landscape due to many factors, including especially labor issues. By combining both immediate guest satisfaction with long-term incentive goals and keeping guests engaged by meeting and exceeding their expectations during their on-site experiences, hotels and resort groups can help create a new era of traveler loyalty.

About the Author

Warren Dehan is the president of Maestro, the preferred cloud and on-premises PMS solution for independent hotels, luxury resorts, conference centers, vacation rentals and multi-ownership groups. Maestro was the first to market with a fully integrated Windows PMS and Sales & Catering solution and continues this trend with cutting-edge web and mobile solutions. Platform and deployment independence presents Maestro as an investment that will continue to grow and adapt as new technologies emerge.

About Maestro PMS

Maestro is the preferred browser-based cloud and on-premises PMS solution for independent hotels, luxury resorts, conference centers, vacation rentals and multi-property groups. Maestro’s PCI-certified and EMV-compliant enterprise system offers a full web browser (or Windows) version with over 20 built-in modules on a single database, including mobile and contactless apps to support a journey digitized client as well as staff operations. Maestro’s sophisticated solutions enable operators to increase profitability, drive direct bookings, centralize operations, and engage customers with a personalized experience from booking to departure and everything in between. For more than 40 years, Maestro’s Diamond Plus service has provided unmatched support and education services in North America, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to keep hotel groups productive and competitive. Click on here for more information about Maestro. Click on here to get your free PMS buying guide.

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