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Last month’s Skift Global Forum saw nearly 40 speakers take the stage to discuss the trends and innovations defining the future of travel. Building traveler loyalty, and how brands can form long-term relationships with customers, was one of the major themes top of mind for speakers and audiences alike.

Once relatively straightforward, the travel loyalty space has become a lot more confounding in recent years. In the early days of loyalty programs, hotels and airlines would typically recognize their most devoted customers with a points system that offered free nights, seat upgrades, or small, but meaningful, rewards. For the most part, travelers who were satisfied stuck with their favorite brands for the long haul. Today, loyalty in travel means something totally different, as travelers have access to a neverending stream of information, and one peer review has the ability to make or break a buying decision.

As Geoff Ballotti, president and chief executive officer of Wyndham Hotel Group stated at Skift Global Forum, “Loyalty has never mattered more.” Loyalty plays an increasingly significant role in the travel industry as brands look to strengthen their customer engagement, encourage direct bookings, promote ancillary services and in turn, increase revenue.

Christopher Nassetta, president and chief executive officer of Hilton, explained why building customer loyalty is so important. “Having direct relationships with our customers allows them to get a better value and a better experience, both because of what we can do for them from a digital sense, and because it helps us learn more about them, enabling us to deliver more customized, personalized experiences.”

The value of customer loyalty, and its ability to offer a treasure trove of consumer insights, was shared by Lufthansa chief digital officer Dr. Christian Langer. Speaking of the airline’s loyalty program Miles & More, he said, “It provides us with extremely rich customer data that allows us to offer higher touch and more personalized experiences than ever before.”

While understanding the role that loyalty now plays is the first step for brands looking to compete in today’s travel market, successfully attracting and retaining consumers is another challenge altogether.

Emphasizing human connections and personalization, enhanced by—not replaced by— technology, is key to garnering customer loyalty, said Lilian Tomovich, chief experience officer and chief marketing officer of MGM Resorts International. More and more, customer service is becoming automatized by technology powered by artificial intelligence. While this can offer convenience to both the customer and the brand utilizing it, it’s important not to overlook the power of the human touch. Human engagement remains critical to driving better guest experiences and truly building relationships with customers.

Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Airbnb said, “Local experiences help enhance loyalty.” While offering local experiences may not apply to every brand, providing travelers with authentic, meaningful exchanges is becoming more important as travelers—especially those on the younger spectrum—seek out this type of experience.

Building and sustaining deep relationships with travelers isn’t easy. But the increase in importance of traveler loyalty in recent years, as well as the customer technology-driven shifts that will undoubtedly be taking place in the space in the near future, make clear that focusing on loyalty is necessary to surviving in an today’s crowded market. Perhaps Arne Sorenson, president and chief executive officer of Marriott International, summed up this new reality best when he said, “Loyalty is the new battleground.”

Olson 1to1 provides loyalty technology, strategy, creative, analytics and program management for some of the most well-known hotel and travel brands. Our mission is to help clients build meaningful, lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with their customers. To learn more, download the report.

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This content was created collaboratively by Olson 1to1 and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.