Independents can win the loyalty wars
Independents can win the loyalty wars
30 NOVEMBER 2016 1:14 PM

Take a look around your property to see how you can maximize your unique assets to inspire loyalty.

Independent hotels have a huge opportunity to maximize guest loyalty, now more than ever.

This year, we’ve seen a push by big hotel brands for loyalty unlike anything we’ve seen in the past decade. They’re investing money, time and technology into these “loyalty wars” to win guests. It’s no longer about points and allegiance to a single brand—no way. Now every company has multiple tiers of loyalty and must deliver multiple benefits.

Because of these new “benefits,” big-brand loyalty programs are experiencing record sign-ups. That’s great in some ways, but it can also have a dilutive effect. Think about how, when you first signed up for TSA Precheck, it was a great, time-saving perk, but now that everyone and their brother-in-law has it, the lines are just as long and slow.

In my opinion, the big brands are veering dangerously into loyalty amenity creep: The more they offer—lower rates, free services and benefits—the more will be required in the long run. That’s only sustainable with more money and more technology, if even then.

This is where independents and small brands have a huge opportunity to truly respond to what makes hotel guests loyal, and inspire loyalty in a very real way.

Benjamin Habbel, CEO of Voyat, summed it up when I heard him speak at a recent conference.

“Everyone has points now,” he said. “Brands are creating an expectation that everyone will get benefits. We see in the airline industry where companies are discounting points and taking privileges away, which creates a huge rift in the relationship. Indies have an opportunity to take a totally different path—take the unique assets they have on-property like the restaurant or spa or other value-adds that set them apart—and use those assets to incentivize users.”

This should be a slam-dunk strategy for independent hotels. Think about what sets your property apart. Visualize a guest or group’s entire stay at your hotel: Are they celebrating an event? Will they eat in the restaurant? Take advantage of a spa treatment? Dive into some historical or other local-flavor aspects of what you can offer, which the big-box hotel down the street can’t?

Then come up with a plan to incentivize your guests across the entire property. Your cozy lobby, plus a coupon for a complimentary cocktail, the great bed and friendly front-desk staff—all will work together to send the message that “hey, the restaurant here is probably just as great as every other experience has been!” Or, “I trust these people to suggest a great activity nearby.”

That kind of comprehensive, total-property thinking will inspire authentic loyalty in a way no amount of points ever will.

Share stories of how you’re inspiring loyalty in the comments below, or you can email me at or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph.

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