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Social Media and UGC

3 Ways Travel Brands Can Build Engagement-Based Loyalty

Customer loyalty can be measured in a variety of ways. For many in the travel industry, loyalty programs have become a core piece of the travel business model. Currently we see loyalty programs built around items such as dollars spent, miles flown, number of night stays, etc. At a high level, the end goal of each loyalty program is to extend the lifetime value of a customer and increase repeat purchase rates.

But customer engagement is a much more powerful way to increase brand loyalty and, so it happens, is closely aligned with current marketing trends. To give you an idea, 39% of millennials will not book a hotel without first engaging with customer reviews. Similarly, 32% will not book travel accommodations without first consulting their peers. The travel industry has long understood the influence of user-generated content in driving bookings—but what too few have yet to do is incorporate social engagement as a key component of their loyalty programs.

Developing an engagement-based loyalty program is about identifying and rewarding customers who contribute and share positive content about your brand.

Here are 3 brand loyalty examples of companies that have encouraged engagement-based loyalty in the form of visual consumer reviews:

1)   The Post-Vacation Ask

Most travel brands already send out a post-purchase confirmation email. The email-ask is a great channel through which to ask customers to submit photos of their experience with your brand. 76% of people post vacation photos to a social network after their vacations. Brands can easily tap into this customer behavior to create engagement-based loyalty. Offer a redeemable gift or repost customer photos on your owned media for immediate gratification. It’s a symbiotic relationship—you validate your consumer’s status as a globetrotter and they validate your brand’s social presence. The post-purchase inspiration factor is invaluable for driving your bottom line and will build your brand an authentic network of loyal advocates along the way.

2)   Contests and Campaigns

One of the fastest ways to increase customer engagement on social media is through social media contests. Photo and video contests give your fans and customers a reason to submit great content and share it with their own social communities. But travel brands can take it a step further by creating campaigns for subsets of their customers (e.g., Executive platinum, Premier gold, Silver elite, Preferred Guest, etc.) Creating targeted hashtag campaigns for segments of your current customers allows you to exhibit the perks of attaining status with your brand. Customize your campaigns and contests based on different levels of customer engagement and offer redeemable rewards.

3)   Innovative and Fun Ideas (With Viral Potential)

First and foremost, make sure that your evergreen hashtag is prevalent. An evergreen hashtag is an overarching hashtag that represents your brand as a whole. Use your evergreen hashtag in your branded social media posts, put it on complimentary items, highlight it on your website; make it easy for customers interacting with your brand to discover your hashtag and join the conversation with their own content. Get creative! Adapt gimmick-y tactics for collecting customer content such as adding photo filters and adjustments to your native mobile app, offering customers selfie sticks to document their visit, creating a real-time photo stream on your owned media, etc.


Marriott’s #TravelBrilliantly campaign was one of the first times that a major promotional campaign for an international hotel brand focused on crowdsourcing and user-generated content at this scale, above and beyond using branded social media.


Kimpton’s #Adorethyselfie campaign offered guests selfie sticks during their stay and a chance to win a $150 Kimpton gift card. Customers were told to take a photo with their selfie stick and upload it to Twitter with the hashtag #AdoreThySelfie. The grand prize was a two-night stay at the Kimpton of their choice.

Travel brands are in a prime position to develop engagement-based loyalty programs that extend beyond revenue models. To make sure your program succeeds, pay close attention to customer content and make an effort to “like” and “comment” on all positive submissions. Social engagement converts customers into brand loyalists, creating a peer-to-peer megaphone of online brand endorsement. By adapting to the consumer power shift and beginning to reward positive social engagement, travel brands can develop a more authentic and effective strand of customer loyalty.J

eff Fromm & Christie Garton, Marketing To Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever (New York: Barkley Inc, 2013)

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