Ithaca, NY, April 16, 2015 – Hospitality industry loyalty programs should involve far more than just points and price discounts. Instead, the goal should be to create genuine loyalty—which includes guests who promote and even defend a brand. With those ideas in mind, participants in the first Cornell Loyalty Management Roundtable focused on how to move hospitality loyalty programs off dead center, and to find ways to make customers truly loyal.

The roundtable was sponsored by the Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. The loyalty program ideas are summarized in a new report from the CHR, “What’s Next in Loyalty Programs: Highlights of the 2014 Cornell Loyalty Program Management Roundtable.” Roundtable participants focusing on ways to improve loyalty programs’ effectiveness included representatives of InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton Worldwide, Host Hotels and Resorts, Marriott International, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sabre Hospitality Solutions, and Wipro Eco Energy.

“Since participants acknowledged that most programs are similar to each other, our goal was to use our discussion of best practices to identify ‘next practices.’ In that context, we examined program design and management, customer lifetime value, and program re-launch, looking for ways to move programs forward,” said roundtable chair Michael McCall. “One area of particular concern is the interaction of social media and loyalty, because no one quite understands how those interactions operate, especially with regard to spending behavior.”

Leading a session on loyalty program redevelopment, Cornell Professor Rohit Verma pointed out that any changes must be based on core marketing tenets, particularly meaningful points of differentiation. Verma is the Singapore Distinguished Professor of Asian Hospitality Management at the School of Hotel Administration. One strategic way to improve the effectiveness of loyalty programs is to reconsider the ways that the hotels reward their customers. Rather than look for price discounts, loyalty program members may prefer premium services that match their loyalty program tier. Such services could be determined by analyzing guest data and consumer behavior. Such an enriched approach could improve guest loyalty without costing more money.