Throughout 2020, we saw travelers shifting their traditional travel plans to "staycations" or local road trips and searching for new ways to redeem old rewards points. Despite some travel restrictions lifting over the past few months, consumers will continue to throttle back travel through the colder months and as the pandemic approaches its hopeful near-end.
A survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association found that only 44 percent of Americans are planning overnight vacations throughout the remainder of the pandemic, compared to 70 percent pre-COVID. With the holiday season passed, 72 percent of respondents shared they only anticipate short overnight trips of two to three days via car over the next several months. This sharp pivot has no doubt impacted the hospitality and travel industry, which is working hard to engage customers amidst the decline in traffic.
The good news is that not only will this staycation season offer consumer experiences in place of missed travel, but it also will provide incredible opportunities for travel and hospitality companies to continue growing loyalty.
More than ever, customers are looking for brands they can trust and rely on for a safe travel experience. In these times, travelers want to know that their health and safety are of the utmost priority. As such, hospitality and travel companies must make this their primary concern to guarantee long-term customer loyalty. For example, if a traveler falls into an elderly age bracket or is traveling to an area experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases, brands should consider offering travelers free cancelations or credits on future trips. Steps like this, showing empathy and care for the individual customer’s health and well-being, will ultimately establish longstanding trust and loyalty.
Beyond travel itself, there are ways to create experiences with your brand from the comfort of the consumer’s home. Consider their travel preferences and how those penchants can apply to experiences like virtual tours. Consider sharing exclusive or “behind the scenes” content that might help them plan for post-pandemic travel. While travel might be off the table for some, that doesn’t mean their experiences stop as well.
Travel and hospitality companies must restructure how consumers can redeem reward points in the COVID-19 era by rethinking how they can help meet customer needs at this time. For example, can rewards points be redeemed for twice their original value if and when customers do feel comfortable traveling? Can they be redeemed for needed items like groceries? Can consumers redeem points on items that may lay the groundwork for future travel?
Organizations must get creative with the opportunities they offer to their customers and prospective customers. One way that organizations are doing this is by offering users the opportunity to donate their reward points to charities of their choice. With so many important issues raising awareness today, this is a great way to help customers use their points in ways that truly matter to them.
There are countless ways to restructure how points are redeemed during this time. For instance, Mastercard recently announced it is embedding its Priceless Planet Coalition into loyalty programs to run on behalf of issuers and merchants. Through this effort, cardholders can redeem reward points for trees through their gift catalogue and in real time through Mastercard Pay with Rewards. With mounting concern around climate change and many developing a green thumb during quarantine, this is a thoughtful initiative that helps organizations meet customers where they are, on issues that matter most to them.
Outside Merchant Rewards
Consider the full scope of a customer’s day. Can rewards from other merchants lead to rewards from your travel brand? Or can earning points with your brand lead to perks at other popular merchants they like?
Companies should explore coordinating with partner and customer networks to create joint consumer experiences and offers. Not only will these partnerships create success in the short term, but they will also generate opportunities for continued engagement with an eye to the future as travel picks back up.
The hospitality and travel industry will continue to see undersized traffic at least through the first few months of 2021. Organizations must use this time to re-evaluate how they use reward points to meet the customers’ needs. While this is a struggle, it is also a great opportunity for the industry to completely rethink how they approach these programs and prepare for the new, omni-channel normal.
Consumers now and in the future will seek out rewards programs that allow them to earn and redeem points in ways that meet their needs and wants rather than being exclusive to one brand or experience. Organizations that recognize this now and create avenues for their consumers to earn and redeem points in ways that benefit their day-to-day are those that will thrive now and well beyond the COVID-era.
Scott Weller is co-founder and CTO of SessionM, a Mastercard Company.