Should boutique hotels offer loyalty cards?

It’s a question that’s currently being debated by some of the industry’s leading figures on Are boutique hotels missing out if they don’t offer guests loyalty cards and reward them for their custom? Or should the guest experience alone be enough to secure repeat bookings?

The argument for

Hotel loyalty card
Loyalty cards can be the reason a guest chooses you over a competitor hotel

A number of well-known boutique hoteliers are in favour of introducing some kind of loyalty cards or programme. Tom Rowntree of IHG talks of the benefits of ‘brand reassurance’:

“The power that a brand can deliver is that we can take away the risk of staying at different hotels because we come in with a brand reassurance. Then of course there all the programmes we plug into, such as the IHG Rewards Club loyalty programme, so there are loyal guests that want a risk-free stay and they’re rewarded for it.”

James Lohan, CEO of Mr & Mrs Smith, believes their loyalty scheme is important for securing bookings. It offers money-back on future bookings or a gift, as well as 24-hour support from a booking team. He views these ‘a nice thing to offer guests.’

The argument against

Some hotels feel that they shouldn’t need loyalty cards and a specific loyalty programme to incentivise guests to choose their establishment. The argument is that the guest experience should stand out on its own, without needing to be propped up by the promise of points or rewards on loyalty cards. This is admirable as a sentiment, and is a great brand promise for all staff to live up to. But what happens if a competitor nearby is offering just as good customer service, but with incentives of free room upgrades or spa vouchers?

Make the stay personal to the guest’, is the view of others, including Gary Davis, CEO of Malmaison Group. Rather than offering points, reward the guest with something that you know they like. It’s hard to find fault with the concept, just as long as the mechanism is in place to flag when a guest is classed as a regular customer. Miss the opportunity to reward and you may just find that they have gone off to try a competitor hotel.

One thing is clear – loyalty cards can’t secure bookings on their own

Of course, loyalty cards and programmes will only be effective if everything else is right. It doesn’t matter how many rewards you offer if customer service is poor, your prices don’t stack up or the beds aren’t comfortable. However if you’ve invested heavily in creating a boutique hotel experience to be proud of, a good loyalty cards scheme can help you to secure repeat bookings with minimal investment.

Read more of the debate here