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Airlines and hotels can earn loyalty by using personalized, contextual communications to create moments of surprise and delight. 

Traveler loyalty is difficult to earn. Despite the effort from airlines and hotels to incentivize loyalty with membership programs, many travelers still like to keep their options open when booking.In fact, a Boxever survey found that only 22 percent of travelers said they care about whether a particular brand, carrier or hotel is offered. While a certain subset of travelers find value in accruing reward points, the average consumer isn’t experiencing enough additional value to care to become a frequent flier. Just 28 percent think being a member of a frequent flier program leads to more personalized service and a better customer experience.

This lack of personalization in loyalty programs is where airlines, hotels and other travel providers have their biggest opportunity. Travelers want brands to know them better if it provides an enhanced experience. The majority of travelers surveyed would appreciate it if an airline automatically knew his/her seat preferences, connection schedule, even dietary needs and drink preferences.

Accurate and contextual personalization has yet to be widely implemented in the travel industry. This means that airlines and hotels have a unique chance to surprise and delight their customers with small but meaningful interactions that can earn true customer loyalty. The travel brands that are doing it right are using some of these creative and unexpected techniques to brighten their customers’ day and win repeat bookings:

Birthday campaigns: A personalized birthday email can be sent to travelers automatically. Many travel brands are taking this a step further and offering personalized birthday incentives and freebies based on robust, data-driven profiles. Any traveler would be both surprised and delighted to wake up on their birthday and find an email full of free miles in their inbox as a gift from an airline.

First booking anniversary: Airlines and hotels are marking special occasions and providing new offers to mark the occasion. Whether this serves as a reminder of how great last year’s trip was, or inspires travel to a new destination, customers appreciate this level of 1:1 engagement and personalization.

Loyalty surprises: Even the most loyal customers aren’t necessarily expecting to be rewarded at every turn. Airlines can let repeat customers know that they’re appreciated by sending them a mobile notification that they’re being upgraded to a better seat. Surprises like this will make sure that loyal customers are lifelong customers.

Some airlines are wholeheartedly embracing the concept of creating signature moments to build loyalty. One year, just before Christmas, Canadian airline WestJet had Santa Claus ask 250 passengers what they wanted for the holidays. When the travelers reached their destination, the gifts they had asked for had arrived – much to their surprise – creating an extremely memorable moment captured on YouTube. Similarly, Virgin Atlantic brought a Santa on board to surprise flyers with free tablets in 2014.

Beyond surprises, there’s a level of personalization that airlines need which will help travelers make their booking decision faster. According to the majority of travelers, there are three things airlines and hotels can do to help them book faster:

  1. Send communications that recommend the best choice (for the traveler, personally) along with a few “next-best” options
  2. Send proactive, personalized and relevant email communication about the potential trip
  3. Send push notifications about the trip to his or her mobile devices

Of course, none of this is possible without a marketing platform that enables travel brands to capture, analyze and act on large volumes of customer data in real time. Marketers must have the ability to automatically optimize every web, mobile, mobile app and call center guest interaction. The platform must also enable flexible lifecycle and triggered outbound communications, where timeliness and context are critical.

Travel brands have a massive opportunity to finally earn the level of loyalty they’ve been striving for. By using contextual data to create moments of surprise and delight for their customers, airlines and hotels will build an emotional connection with travelers. This connection has largely eluded the travel industry for years, but now more and more brands are making it a reality.

Find out how best-in-class companies are using actionable insights and context to enhance the customer experience that today’s traveler expects: Customer Intelligence Takes Flight