Technological advancements, coupled with virtual reality and location-based technologies, have encouraged designers to create ingenuous gaming experiences across various industries, including travel and tourism. Game mechanics and experience design have a supreme impact on life in nongaming contexts. This development has resulted in gamification. According to 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 the tourism industry, gamification has the potential to influence people’s opinions, motivation, and behavior in their choice of destinations, creating unique and engaging travel experiences. Examples of gamification features include challenges, scores, leaderboards, badges, and rewards.


Experts shouldn’t underestimate gaming and see it merely as a pastime for teenagers. Modern technologies have transformed simple video games into pervasive gaming experience that can be enjoyed virtually everywhere. Since we live in the era of constant technological innovation, game designers draw inspiration to create innovative gameplays for diverse purposes. The travel and tourism industry is eager to explore this innovation and capitalize on its potential. With a great variety of attractions, the expectations of tourists have exponentially increased. For tourist information offices, museums, and other cultural institutions, it has become increasingly demanding and challenging to keep attracting, engaging and entertaining visitors. Gamification emerges as a valuable tool in meeting and overcoming this challenge.


How can the tourism industry benefit from gamification? By tapping into game mechanics, the industry can improve its relations with tourists. Numerous companies in the sector view gamification as a creative source for marketing purposes. One of the primary goals the tourism industry is trying to achieve through game mechanics is the creation or improvement of loyalty programs.


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


A vivid example of innovative gamification within the travel industry is the recent collaboration between Starwood and Foursquare, a local search and discovery service mobile application. The renowned international hotel chain and the location-based application signed off a joint-project aiming at strengthening Starwood’s loyalty program through the incorporation of game mechanics. The core concept behind 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 who check into a Starwood hotel on Foursquare and share their check-ins with their application can earn an additional 250 Starpoints, contributing to their Starwood loyalty points. Furthermore, participants have the opportunity to collect badges and unlock various 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 recommendations with the community. This competitive feature of gamification in the campaign encourages users to actively utilize the service, resulting in heightened engagement. The outcome of the campaign is straightforward and rewarding: increased customer satisfaction and effective brand promotion.


Also, one should consider the economic and social effects of gamification on loyalty programs. Economically, gamification increases customer loyalty, spurs the sharing of travel suggestions and tips, and improves understanding of customer behavior. Socially, it provides the customer with social recognition or status, exemplified by titles like “Starwood Preferred Guest Mayor”, and increases visibility on social networks.


Given the current abundance of brands, services, and products, membership in a loyalty program does not prevent customers from switching elsewhere and becoming fans of other brands, services, and products. Therefore, it is in the best interest of travel marketers to design interactive initiatives that would catch customer attention. The integrated features of game mechanics into loyalty programs may serve this purpose effectively.