National Report – It’s no secret that many independent hotels have to work harder than their branded counterparts to attain customers. Independents thrive on repeat business from travelers who show an affinity for the property, and loyalty programs are one of the most effective drivers of repeat bookings.
Alternative loyalty program Universal Points is one such program, which caters directly to independent hotels. The program’s portfolio consists of 140 hotels across 31 countries, a number generated over the eight months since the company launched. James Gancos, CEO & founder of Universal Points, learned the power of loyalty programs, and their ability to generate direct bookings, while working at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. Gancos said that Universal Points’ system allows independent hotels to tap into behavior-changing incentives for guests by offering rewards solely for direct bookings.
“When a guest receives a reward versus a discount, it’s a different feeling,” Gancos said. “Discounts feel like they are just part of a deal, or something a seller missed. Rewards encourage a return.”
One of the aspects that differentiates Universal Points from other independent loyalty programs, such as Stash and Voila Hotel Rewards, is the reward guests receive. Universal Points offers guests a 5-percent return on what they spend at affiliated hotels, excluding taxes, through either Paypal or Virtual Visa at the conclusion of their stay. However, this reward is once again only available to guests who booked directly through the hotel’s website as opposed to an online travel agency.
Universal Points is already present in major cities such as London, New York and San Diego, but according to Gancos, the company will be pushing for deeper penetration into key markets during 2015. “We are still in a phase where growing our portfolio is the primary goal,” Gancos said.