Loyalty Programs and Gamification in the Tourism Industry


Technological innovations, virtual reality and location-based technologies have encouraged designers to create ingenuous gameplays for diverse industries, among which is travel and tourism. Game mechanics and experience design have a supreme impact on life in nongaming contexts.  This development has resulted in gamification. As Gartner, a research center, gamification “is a method to engage digitally, rather than personally. Players interact with computers, smartphones or other digital gadgets, rather than with a person.”  In tourism, it can influence people’s opinions, motivation and behavior towards the choice of destination, and create unique traveling experiences. Among examples of gamification features are: challenges, scores, leaderboards, badges and rewards.


Experts shouldn’t underestimate gaming and see it only as a pastime for teenagers. Because of modern technologies, simple video games have turned into pervasive gaming with an opportunity to play games everywhere.  Since we live in the era of constant innovation of modern technologies, game designers find inspiration to create newfangled gameplays for diverse purposes.  Travel and tourism industry is eager to explore this innovation and take the opportunity to benefit from it.  With a great variety of attractions, tourists’ expectations have exponentially increased.  As for the tourist information offices, museums and other cultural institutions, it has become more demanding and challenging to keep attracting, involving and entertaining visitors. Thanks to gamification, they can fight off this challenge.


So how can tourism industry benefit from gamification?   Thanks to game mechanics, the industry can improve its relations with tourists.  Many companies in the industry regard gamification as a creative source for marketing purposes.  One of the goals tourism industry is trying to achieve through game mechanics is loyalty programs’ creation or improvement. 


The attractiveness of traditional loyalty programs is slowly decreasing because customers prefer to engage with virtual environment and technologies.  As a result, some of the hotels and restaurant chains have introduced game features into their loyalty programs. 


A vivid example of innovative gamification in the travel industry is Starwood's recent collaboration with Foursquare, a local search and discovery service mobile application.  The international hotel chain and the location-based application signed off a joint-project aiming at strengthening Starwood’s loyalty program by adding game mechanics.  The core idea of this initiative is to provide users with the opportunity to link their Foursquare accounts to their Starwood accounts and to benefit from a special summer promotion.  Users check into a Starwood hotel on Foursquare and share their check-ins with their contacts through the application.  In this way, they can earn 250 extra Starpoints, that is Starwood loyalty points, collect more badges and unlock many rewards on Foursquare.  Besides, a person with the most Foursquare check-ins at Starwood hotels can win the title of “Starwood Preferred Guest Mayor” and share their travel suggestions with the community.  This competitive feature of gamification in the campaign encourages users to use the service more often.  The campaign’s result is simple and rewarding: customer’s satisfaction and brand’ promotion.


Also, one should consider economic and gamification’s social effects on loyalty programs.  From the economic perspective, gamification increases customers’ loyalty, spurs sharing of travel suggestions and tips, and improves the knowledge about customer behavior.  Social effects give the customer social recognition or social status, for example “Starwood Preferred Guest Mayor”, and increase visibility on social networks.


With today’s diverse choice of brands, services and products, being a member of a loyalty program does not impede customers to switch elsewhere and become a fan of other brands, services and products.  And it is in the travel marketers’ best interests to design and do something interactive that would catch customer’s attention.  The interwoven features of game mechanics into the loyalty program might play the trick.


Article written by Liudmila Kazak,

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