Beyond points: How travel brands can foster loyalty in the world today

This post is sponsored by Pan Pacific Hotels Group.

The traditional lines separating consumers have blurred. Global cultural phenomena, technology, lifestyles, and tastes have transcended traditional notions of demographics, nationality and location – in a flash. Aided by social and mobile technologies, new tribes have formed around common interests, lifestyles, and beliefs.

Consider these:

  • Pop phenoms can now arise everywhere. The most viewed music videos on YouTube include Latin American hit Despacito with 6.3 billion views, while Baby Shark by Pinkfong! is the world’s top educational video, amassing over 3.3 billion views.
  • Avengers: End Game generated over US$1.9 billion overseas (versus US$851 million in the US). Top markets include China (US$629 million), the United Kingdom (US$114 million), Korea (US$105 million), Brazil (US$85 million) and Mexico (US$77 million).
  • The world’s No.1 pop group isn’t from the US, but South Korea. K-Pop group BTS has such huge global clout that it was recently appointed as the United Nation’s goodwill ambassadors.

In short, we can no longer put people into buckets. Rather, we need to consider what their life stages, unique experiences and outlooks are.

As our customers shift in their tastes and preferences, customer loyalty is no longer just about reward points and incentives; travel brands must now support the aspirational, communal and transformational journeys of their global consumers.

Five emerging trends in travel

How do these seismic shifts in consumer behaviours influence the travel trade? There are five major trends for us to consider.

No.1 Explosion of experience seekers: It is estimated by Trekksoft that spending on experience travel could spike up to US$4.2 trillion in the next 10 years. And when asked what they would splurge on, 37% of new generation travellers declared in a survey by WYSE Travel Confederation they were willing to pay more for food and drink experiences while airfare upgrades were favoured least.

No.2 Growth in educational travel: Learning vacations are also fast catching on. Focused on adding to your knowledge of a particular subject, they can be anything from digging alongside archaeologists in Egypt, picking up skills in wildlife photography from a Nat Geo photographer, to learning how to whip up a Vietnamese meal.

No.3 Eco-friendly sojourners: Motivated by the desire to improve the state of our planet, responsible travellers care about their environmental footprint. They seek and support companies committed to sustainable tourism while finding ways to reduce waste and carbon emissions. More searches have been detected on Google for green hotels, and more tourists have registered a preference for eco-friendly accommodation such as PARKROYAL on Pickering, Singapore’s first hotel-in-a-garden and winner of the World’s Leading Green City Hotel award.

No.4 Business + leisure (bleisure) travellers: More likely to tap out a blog post on a beach in Bali, or check her emails in a ski lift in Whistler, today’s travellers mix business travel with leisure – a trend which mirrors the rise in the gig and sharing economies. According to a Business Traveller article, 75% of respondents extended business trips for leisure purposes.

No.5 Digital and social-first: Social-savvy sojourners are also using their smartphones on every step of their journey – pre-arrival, during their stay, and post-trip. According to WebFX, 76% of travellers post vacation photos, 55% liked Facebook pages specific to a vacation, and 40% to 46% post reviews. Today’s travellers also use a wide variety of apps to plan their trips, including super apps such as Google Trips, Meituan Dianping, and WeChat.

Forging a new travel compact

To survive and thrive in this dynamic new environment, travel and lifestyle businesses need to go beyond points to attract, retain and grow their customer base. We need to forge a new covenant with our guests, anchored on four key pillars.

No.1 Soul-to-soul

First, we must connect and engage more deeply with our customers. We need to be authentic and inclusive, anticipate the spoken and unspoken needs of our guests, and build trust through transparency.

At Pan Pacific Hotels Group (PPHG), we attract like-minded and like-hearted guests who share our corporate values in championing sustainable and socially conscious travel encounters. This could be through offering eco-friendly dining options for their events, recognising them as valued guests, or providing customised services tailored to their needs.

PPHG further supports our wider community by providing individuals with disabilities meaningful and sustainable employment opportunities. This goes beyond CSR, and strikes at the heart of our corporate and business strategy.

No.2 Omni-channel experiences

Next, we need to tap on artificial intelligence and data analytics to provide our guests with a personalised and seamless travel experience on all channels – online, offline or on-site.

A good example is Disney. Guests can access Disney’s website or app, book and plan customised trips with the My Disney Experience Tool, and use their “Magic Band” to skip queues at theme parks, enter their hotel room, store photos or order food.

Here, at the Pan Pacific and PARKROYAL hotels, we have crafted weekly destination guides to provide bespoke travel itineraries to guests with varied interests. Our colleagues at each hotel have also curated unique local experiences as part of our DISCOVERY membership programme. Members can choose from a wide array of leisure experiences that are not easily accessible – from culture, culinary, art, and adventure, to philanthropy and events.

No.3 Social storytelling

To meet the expectations of smartphone and selfie-stick wielding travellers, we need to inspire their imagination and help them to tell their travel tales.

With over 3.3 million followers and about 100 million views each month, Tourism Australia’s Instagram account is an exemplar in the art of social storytelling. It does so by crowdsourcing user content to build a community, and tagging featured travellers in their posts.

Encouraging guests to share their travel experiences with us, PARKROYAL Hotels & Resorts have also embraced social storytelling. Using the hashtag #shareyourmoments, we nudge our guests to be part of a bigger community – a move which supports our brand promise: “The best of you, by us.”

No.4 Affirm self-identity and values

Last, we need to connect with the personal narratives of consumers. By doing so, travel can become a self-actualising transformative experience.

These experiences are more than just creature comforts. On the contrary, they often bring travellers out of their comfort zones to help them to achieve personal transformation and growth – what we can call “shake up experiences”.

By opening their hearts, minds and souls to the unknown, such transformative experiences help them to reflect on their life, work through challenges, and change their perspectives. Just think of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love and you’ll get the picture.

The PARKROYAL brand encapsulates this with its brand mission to celebrate people and giving one’s best to bring out the best in others.

By welcoming every guest with open arms and open minds, PARKROYAL creates joyful experiences and real connections in travel.

A good example here is Lokal Travel, a community tourism platform and travel operator. By participating in their efforts, travellers can support the work of women in developing communities around the world, and contribute to their livelihoods in a meaningful and rewarding way.

Conclusion

Social-savvy, globally connected, experience-centric, and ethically conscious, travellers today are no longer satisfied with reward points and discounts alone.

To foster their loyalty, we need to connect not only with their travel aspirations, but what they value and desire in life. By doing so, we can help them to find greater fulfilment in their lives.

Are you ready to meet this challenge?