How Your Hotel Can Use Rewards to Increase Wedding BookingsFebruary 13, 2014 by Taylor Short
Wedding season is nearly here, and an estimated 2.2 million weddings will take place in 2014. Hotels know that, first and foremost, brides and grooms seek the best locations and amenities for their ceremony—but many hotels are discovering they can increase wedding bookings by offering couples additional incentives.
Hotel loyalty programs are popular among travelers who enjoy earning points that can be redeemed for free stays, discounts on amenities or a variety of other prizes. They are often used today to attract business travel bookings. However, hoteliers for brands large and small are learning that offering points to wedding planners and spouses-to-be can be the selling point that draws tens of thousands of dollars in wedding revenue.
Here, we offer some simple tips from hotels that have increased their wedding business. By following them, you can create, promote and maintain a loyalty program that draws wedding customers to your hotel.
Award Points to Wedding Planners
In most loyalty programs, points are awarded to the purchaser (e.g., for a wedding, the purchaser might be a parent of the bride). But, some hotels are awarding wedding points to wedding planners and brides-to-be.
Stash Hotel Rewards offers independent hotels the ability to join a national rewards program and use it to attract travelers. Using the program to attract wedding planners and spouses-to-be is a new trend, and the company is observing and learning from member hotels as they experiment with the best methods, says Mary Miller, vice president of marketing for Stash Hotel Rewards.
“We’ve been finding out where it works, so our hotel members can all learn from each other,” she says.
Sometimes the bride and groom plan the wedding themselves, but many couples involve a professional planner, as well. One of Stash’s member hotels recommends splitting rewards points between the wedding planner and the bride.
“It helps us establish loyalty with the wedding planners so that they keep bringing weddings back to us, which we always want,” says Amber Cagle, director of sales at The Resort at The Mountain in Oregon.
The Resort at the Mountain’s outdoor wedding venue
This is also a way to get couples and their relatives to return to the hotel for an anniversary stay or another wedding, Cagle adds. For example, an older bride who was married at The Resort at the Mountain later used the points she received for her daughter’s wedding. Since adopting the Stash program over five years ago, Cagle reports a 30 percent increase in wedding bookings at her hotel.
Offer Unique Anniversary Packages
For large hotel brands, the ability to use points to stay at any of their numerous properties can be a convincing perk for guests. But independent hotels must be more strategic in convincing couples to return to their one and only property for a second stay. This can be achieved by offering targeted and compelling incentives to newlyweds.
Jason Kern is the director of sales for The Shores Resort and Spa in Daytona Beach, Florida: a Stash Hotel Rewards member of about four years. Like many other independent hotels, Kern saw a loyalty program as a way to gain an edge on the Hilton hotel across the street.
“We lost a couple [wedding] groups to the Hilton over points, so we thought we could try it as well,” he says.
Following a wedding, Kern says the hotel sends a handwritten letter thanking the bride and groom for their business that includes a reminder for them to call the hotel directly when they plan to visit again. He also offers returning couples a special package: a free stay, and a re-creation of their wedding meal for a romantic anniversary dinner in a beachside cabana.
The Shores Resort and Spa’s open terrace wedding venue
Kern says offering rewards points and special anniversary packages has helped him close more weddings annually since adopting the program. He expects an increase of about 12 percent in wedding business in 2014.
“I’m anticipating about 80 weddings this year, and we’ll probably pick up an extra eight to 10 weddings using the rewards program,” he says. “At $20,000 to $25,000 a pop, that adds up pretty quickly.”
Cross Promote to Business Travelers
Many of your most active loyalty-program members will be business travelers–those who frequent a hotel to hold meetings and conferences. These point-hungry customers may not realize weddings can be used to rack up more points, or alternatively, points can be used to pay for weddings.
Marriott Rewards Director Kristin Cardona explains that members earn three points for every dollar spent, up to a maximum of 50,000 points per event. With average wedding costs hovering around $28,000, according to a survey from The Knot, reward-program members can earn maximum points with a single nuptial. Frequent business travelers who also book meetings throughout the year can rack up a large bank of points that can later be applied towards a wedding. Cardona says one loyalty member saved up 3 million points and used them to pay for his child’s entire wedding at a Marriott hotel.
Hotels should clearly communicate the types of events for which points can be used. They should integrate wedding offerings into their program, promotional materials and sales processes. It may help cross-sell other services and drive additional revenue from repeat customers.
The wedding page on Marriott.com includes information about earning points for weddings
Promote the Program Through Email and Social Media
Once you determine the details of the wedding-rewards-points strategy, and how it should be integrated into your existing loyalty program, you can use social media and email to maintain program awareness with wedding planners and guests.
Because independent hotels are typically more desirable for weddings due to their unique character, they often have existing relationships with local wedding planners. Tami Kay Galvin, The Resort at the Mountain’s catering and conference manager, says the hotel’s corporate marketing department sends out regular email blasts to planners to remind them that they can earn points for wedding referrals.
“We’ll send them out an email that shows them their Stash Rewards points, and ask them to please visit us again,” she says. “We’ll also send out anniversary reminders for brides and grooms to entice them to come back for an anniversary stay.”
Social media is an effective way to target both past and future guests. For example, since wedding searches are extremely popular on Pinterest, you should post pictures from a recent wedding held at your property on your hotel’s Pinterest account, including information and links to your wedding and rewards pages. Posting to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can also pique the interest of potential customers and maintain awareness of your hotel’s rewards program for past guests.
The Ocean Key Resort and Spa in Key West, Florida posted a promotion for weddings using Stash Hotel Rewards on Pinterest
A post promoting Stash Hotel Rewards on the Pismo Beach SeaCrest OceanFront Hotel’s Facebook page
Be sure to also dedicate a portion of your website’s wedding page to your loyalty program for those who may be browsing the web. This keeps the loyalty program as a top selling point for your property in the minds of brides, grooms and planners.
The Bourbon Orleans Hotel in New Orleans includes a link to rewards points offers on its wedding page
Though it’s an emerging opportunity that hotels are still experimenting with, wedding rewards are so far proving lucrative. Attracting wedding planners and engaged couples by integrating a strategy into your existing loyalty rewards program is a simple way to potentially increase your hotel’s wedding bookings—and add thousands in revenue to your bottom line.