We sat with the executive director of FRHI Hotels & Resorts, Sharon Cohen, to take stock of the important patterns in today’s loyalty landscape worth your attention.

What are the important trends in travel rewards programs today?

One of the big trends in the loyalty and rewards space today is the emergence of benefits that extend beyond the brand experience or the standard program offering into a member’s day-to-day lifestyle. Many brands today work to remain front and center in a member’s daily activities in order to create greater brand affinity.

Some examples of this type of activity in the hospitality space are points based loyalty programs that offer point redemptions for events like concerts or sporting events so members can reap the benefits of their programs in their home cities. At Fairmont, we looked to key elements of the travel experience: food and beverage, sports and adventure, health and wellness, arts and entertainment etc. and found like-minded partners in those areas that work with us to add value for guests.

For example, Reebok has partnered with us to helps us keep our members in shape while they are on the road through the Fairmont Fit program. Fairmont Fit offers Reebok fitness apparel and running shoes to members to use during their stay. As part of Fairmont Fit, members also have access to complimentary BMW bicycles, which gives them an active and environmentally friendly way for travelers to explore the unique environments we are located in.

"A program that can help facilitate unique cultural explorations that set the traveler at the heart of authentic experiences will build emotional loyalty with their members by providing access to something they couldn’t get to on their own."

Why are experience-oriented programs of more interest to travelers?

Regardless of generation or age group, today’s travelers are worldly and sophisticated. They have access to a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips but what they are looking for can’t be found in a guide book or on a website. Today’s explorers want to experience the essence of a destination and not the tourist sites. A program that can help facilitate unique cultural explorations that set the traveler at the heart of authentic experiences will build emotional loyalty with their members by providing access to something they couldn’t get to on their own.

Why is a personalized experience so important when it comes to traveler retention?

Everyone wants to feel unique, special and valued. When hotels take the time to learn more about a member and their stay preferences, they are showing them that they care to start a relationship. When they act on those preferences and deliver a tailored experience based on what they know about the member, the relationship can begin.

Advance preparation of a room based on personal travel preferences tells the member that someone has been expecting them and they feel more important and welcomed. I have found it is often the small touches, not the grand gestures that make the biggest impact—like noting that a customer prefers decaf coffee for example and replacing the in-room coffee offering with decaf. Those touches tell a guest that they are being cared for.

What new and exciting programs do you see travel rewards programs developing in the next five years?

The facilitation of technology in delivering end-to-end travel experiences will be front-and-center, as the need for increased mobility and omni-channel recognition becomes more important to travelers. Loyalty programs will also need to continue to find creative ways of maintaining the key principles of customer engagement by recognizing and rewarding members and delivering bespoke benefits and experiences that are relevant and valuable to their members.