HotelsInstead of fighting an uphill battle to change a traveller's purchasing behaviour, incentives through preferred OTAs can increase reservations and build brand loyalty.

4 reasons why brand loyalty, not channel loyalty, is important.

Travel Outlook explains the need to embrace loyal customers, regardless of the channel they pick.
Travel Outlook explains the need to embrace loyal customers, regardless of the channel they pick. Photo Credit: Getty Images/scyther5

The pandemic has disrupted the travel space, and that includes the hospitality industry, which should realise that customers can show brand loyalty without channel loyalty, according to Travel Outlook.

In a commentary by John Smallwood, president of Travel Outlook, he questioned: "After all, if one customer books five stays through an OTA like Expedia or Travelocity, and another customer books four stays directly through your voice channels, would you value the first customer any less?

"In short, no. At the end of the day, reservations are what matter."

Here are four tips by Smallwood on comprehending loyalty in today's post-pandemic riddled travel landscape.

1. Understanding today’s travellers

OTAs were the first disruptors, causing a loss in direct booking revenue, but the hospitality industry has since adjusted because after all, OTAs still present hotels with valuable insights, such as data that revenue professionals can use to help secure future reservations. And for the marketing team, this information can further their understanding of today’s travellers to establish brand loyalty.

The simple truth is that OTAs, alone, no longer pose the threat to hotel revenue streams that they did when they first appeared. At the end of the day, travellers are going to do what’s easiest for them to book. If that’s booking through an OTA, then hoteliers must understand why travellers turn to OTAs and ask, "how can they create brand loyalty without channel loyalty?"

2. Should loyalty always be defined by source?

According to Emily Bowen, CRME, CHDM Director of Revenue Strategy, “People external to the travel industry likely do not understand the nuances of booking sources and their importance to a company’s bottom line. When we become hyper-focused on the source, we may risk the guest perceiving that they are doing something wrong and ultimately, affecting the [emotional] connection to the guest."

Bowen additionally questions whether the source of the booking becomes less relevant as long as it meets the emotional needs of the guest during their transactional experience.

3. Recognise what booking channels travellers prefer to use

When a traveller books your property through an OTA, your CRM (customer relationship management) can still house their data. Despite the traveller using a third-party channel, hoteliers still have access to a traveller's stay history, booking patterns, and more — which can be used to market to this guest for future reservations.

Similarly, once a hotel identifies what a traveller's chosen booking channels are, they can work to facilitate future bookings. If it’s apparent that many traveller are booking through certain third-party sites, appeal directly to those travellers on their current channel of choice and offer special rates and promotions exclusively for those OTA channels.

4. Create offers that appeal to travellers based on the channels they prefer to use

Travellers, like all consumers, are habitually driven. Purchasing behaviour can be incredibly difficult to influence since travellers are likely to return to the same channel for future travel.

Thus, incentivising travellers with exclusive deals and promotions through their chosen OTAs will urge them to develop brand loyalty, despite them having channel loyalty to an OTA.

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