Arrivia recently published the Travel Intent Survey Report, a study on how travel rewards program members’ priorities differ from leisure travelers and how brands can meet those needs and expectations. Loyalty360 CEO Mark Johnson met with Jeff Zotara, CMO at Arrivia, to discuss the study, its findings, and how they relate to overall customer loyalty.

How does Arrivia define loyalty?
Zotara: It can mean different things to different organizations. However, at its core, loyalty is about engaging your target market to meet specific goals. Maybe you want to drive new sales, increase your association’s membership, or hold on to your employees — in each of these cases, you need to offer your audience something of value to incentivize the desired action. Having a great product is a great start, but in an era of almost unlimited choice, organizations need to go above and beyond to truly engage their audience. That’s where loyalty tools, like the ones we offer at arrivia, can help — specifically travel.

Travel is inspirational and aspirational, and we pride ourselves on providing our customers with unparalleled value that they can then bring to their customers. By offering your customers exclusive deals, discounts, and travel options they won’t find anywhere else, you become indispensable to their lives when it comes to how and when they book travel. This builds a lot of goodwill and allows your brand to continuously engage your customers so that your organization remains top of mind. 

You recently surveyed travel rewards program members. Can you give us a little background on why you decided to conduct the survey?
Zotara: As a travel rewards and loyalty platform, we’re always interested in traveler trends. The world of travel has gone through so much upheaval since COVID, so it’s more important than ever that travel suppliers understand what’s motivating traveler behavior. Though we conducted a similar survey querying the American leisure traveler at large, this time, we wanted to hone in on what travel rewards members find important to better understand the gaps in travel loyalty programs and what can be done to fix them.
 
Have you conducted similar studies in the past? If so, when and how have the results compared with this year’s report?
Zotara: What’s great about this survey is that we could compare the results to our travel loyalty survey from earlier this year. In both those surveys, value was the top factor impacting a person’s decision to book a trip. However, for the travel reward member, it’s more important by a factor of two-to-one, which signals that loyalty rewards programs should double down on this aspect of their programs.

In second place, at just over 20%, was the ability for reward program members to use points or miles when booking a trip. When we look at the blended group of rewards and non-rewards members, only 11% said this was their top consideration. 

What are some emerging trends you see coming out of the study?
Zotara: I’m not so sure it’s a trend, but I think people’s readiness to travel is something we will be seeing for a long time. For instance, in our survey of rewards members, 79% said they had plans to fly within three months. In the past, business travel may have formed a large part of the equation, but according to our data, 85% are traveling for leisure.

What surprised you the most about travel rewards program members’ priorities? Have they changed since the pandemic?
Zotara: I couldn’t say I was surprised. Value has always been important to travelers. However, post-pandemic, I think it’s fair to say that we all probably have an expanded sense of what value for money means. Deals and discounts cannot be overlooked, but I think people are also seeking experiences and flexibility that may have been less important than in the past. The emphasis on the importance of using points to book a trip is also potentially a sign of our times. As costs continue to rise across the travel landscape, travelers will increasingly be leaning on their points to help reduce some of those costs and make travel more affordable.

You mention the difference between rewards travelers and leisure travelers. Can you tell us how you define the two, and what have your study findings revealed that differentiate the groups?
Zotara: Rewards travelers are those consumers who belong to one or more loyalty programs that offer travel benefits. An example could be a consumer who accumulates points or miles using an airline’s co-branded credit card. These travelers have a particular brand affinity because they get something of value from the loyalty program provider. The leisure traveler is likely to be more brand agnostic, looking for value wherever they think they can get it and not necessarily a specific travel supplier.

What are some of the best ways you have seen brands incorporate travel rewards?
Zotara: We’ve seen brands leverage flexible loyalty points structures to create really interesting (and effective) incentives through travel rewards. Because we partner with brands to use available margins to expand the power of points, we’ve helped clients craft special offers and bonus initiatives that have a profound impact on customer and member behavior. For example, many of our clients have had success with limited time “sales” during which members can earn 5x (or other multiples) of points when booking within a specific time window. Tier upgrade incentives are also popular and effective, as brands award members bonus points for upgrading their membership.

Other creative uses for travel benefits include rewarding members for learning more about a brand’s new core products, like offering a points bonus for taking a tour or participating in an educational session. Some brands also use points to help recover from customer service challenges. But it’s important to remember that none of these initiatives are possible with a static loyalty currency (i.e., $1 = 1 point), and they would not be beneficial to the brand without available margin to “fund” the points bonuses distributed to members.

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