Alongside most everything else, travel is getting more expensive. But that hasn’t curtailed demand — at least not yet. After more than two years of COVID travel restrictions, consumers are eager to make up for lost time and are flocking to airports like never before. July 1st set a record for screened passengers at airport checkpoints nationwide since the pandemic began, according to TSA. But that doesn’t mean they’re willing to travel at any cost.
Though they may accept that they could pay more for a vacation in 2022, consumers are still looking to get as much value as possible from their travel booking. According to a recent arrivia survey on American consumer attitudes about cruise travel, almost half of respondents said value for money was the most critical factor impacting their decision to book. Another arrivia report indicates that this is true across all travel touchpoints.
Businesses that deliver that value to customers can leverage this once-in-a-lifetime travel demand to engage their audience and grow their business. But as costs rise, how do companies achieve this, and what do consumers mean when they say they want value?
Driving value through rewards and benefits
You don’t have to be a travel provider to offer your customers travel products or discounts on those products that demonstrate that you care about meeting their needs. You just need a travel rewards and benefits platform. Any organization with a dedicated audience or member base — think associations, employers, loyalty programs, or subscription services— can partner with a rewards technology and fulfillment supplier company like arrivia to create a dedicated travel booking platform exclusively for their members or customers.
Think of it as an exclusive travel club for your brand allowing your audience to access members-only travel deals that far exceed the savings they’ll find on public forums like online travel agencies. As an organization, you can become the go-to travel provider for your customers, enabling you to engage with them more frequently and better understand their preferences and behaviors.
But a travel rewards and benefits platform is more than just a booking portal. It’s a loyalty ecosystem that you can leverage as a valuable incentive and engagement tool. Depending on your business, this can take many forms.
Travel as an employee incentive or new member sign-up reward
Suppose you’re a large employer that has decided to introduce travel to your benefits package. In that case, you could offer each new employee a points-based signing bonus as part of your recruitment strategy. A credit union could offer points to members for each new referral or to celebrate specific milestones like opening a new investment account. Because travel is so prized and is generally considered a high-value item, the reward aspect is almost limitless and far more impactful than more commonplace rewards like a magazine subscription or a gift card to an online store.
Travel rewards platforms are proven, too. Many organizations, particularly financial services and travel companies, already offer customers loyalty programs with points that can be used for travel and discounted travel options. But many current programs fail to provide their program members with recognizable value, especially compared to the number of publicly available discount travel sites. According to arrivia’s recent survey on the intersection of travel rewards and loyalty, 24% of American consumers say their rewards don’t seem valuable enough. In comparison, 28% of loyalty program managers say they struggle to demonstrate the value of their rewards to members. These numbers indicate that existing travel rewards platforms need to do a better job of advertising their unique value proposition and leveraging their members-only programs to deliver the best possible discounts and rates to members.
It’s not (all) about the money
When consumers say that their loyalty programs don’t seem valuable enough, what are they really saying? While they do cite value for money as a top priority, that doesn’t mean all they care about is booking a trip for the least amount possible.
To get value from their travel rewards programs, customers want options and a great customer experience —something they say is lacking. In arrivia’s travel loyalty survey, 32% of respondents said they were bothered by the lack of redemption options among the programs they are signed up for, and 29% said the earning and redemption process was too complex. Other pain points they mentioned were “irrelevant or superfluous recommendations and marketing,” “poor customer service,” and “poor website user experience.”
When members log on to their rewards platform booking website, they should be able to book the trip they want without facing a bevy of restrictions or limitations. Maybe that’s why only 26% said they first turn to their loyalty programs when shopping for travel deals. This number could be much higher if those loyalty platforms delivered value on every front, not just in terms of straight discounting but by meeting customer expectations overall.
Consider the travel options available through the rewards platform for purchase and points redemption. Suppose a member or customer wants to book a cruise, but your brand only offers flight and hotel options. In that case, they might find it inconvenient or too complicated to book through your service and instead turn to another source that can accommodate both. To turn your travel rewards program into an engine of growth, you need to provide your members with the travel options they want to deliver the value they demand.
Don’t forget about the customer experience
Overall, customer experience is equally important. A rewards platform should make it easy and transparent to exchange points and be designed as a digital-first experience. That means more than just a nice-looking, user-friendly website. It means providing a modern, personalized experience for your users. Member-based travel rewards programs have a distinct advantage over online travel agencies — their members. As a trusted organization, you have unique insight into your members’ travel preferences, priorities, and behaviors. A rewards partner that employs intelligent marketing can use information gathered from the member’s digital footprint to create targeted and relevant travel content that best meets their individual needs, thereby increasing the likelihood of conversion.
How your customers experience travel booking and travel rewards
Let’s say you are a member of a credit card company’s travel rewards program and are looking to take a family beach vacation. You’ve spent some time looking at online destinations but haven’t committed. Then you get a promotion in your inbox for a travel deal to Riviera Maya from your rewards provider that specifically highlights family-friendly resorts and the activities you can do there. Riviera Maya wasn’t on your radar, but the deal is so great and speaks directly to your family’s needs that you decide to book your vacation there. The next time you plan a trip, you may remember the value your loyalty rewards program brought to the table and turn to that brand first.
That’s the combined value – recognizing members’ needs and offering personalized options to meet them at a proven discount – that only a good travel rewards and benefits platform can deliver. Publicly accessible OTAs don’t have a built-in digital relationship with members to provide tailored options based on previous brand or program interactions. They can’t match the depth of discount travel suppliers made available to members-only groups like private loyalty programs. When consumers are eager to travel but increasingly cognizant of getting the best value on their journeys, providing a positive combined benefits experience is a real differentiator for loyalty programs, membership organizations, and businesses of all kinds. For many, travel will always be aspirational.
With the right travel rewards platform — one that’s modern and flexible — your organization can better engage your target audience, deliver incomparable value, and use the platform to meet your goals, whether that’s employee recruitment, customer acquisition, or member loyalty.
Jeff Zotara is the Chief Marketing Officer at arrivia, one of the world’s largest travel technology companies celebrating more than 25 years of partnering with the world’s most respected and iconic brands.
Jeff leads the global D2C/B2C marketing technology, advertising, merchandising, and creative teams for arrivia. Spanning 10 offices across the globe, arrivia employs more than 2,000 engaged team members. He and his teams are steadfast in transforming loyalty by providing the most differential member experience at the intersection of travel and technology.
Jeff joined arrivia with a two-decade track record as a strategic and operational leader. Previously, he served as Chief Marketing Officer for SOR Technology, leading the digital transformation and marketing expansion of its private-label technology software platforms for the travel sector.