Gift card/certificate program at your lodging
If you think Black Friday is only for the big internet retail companies, you are wrong. Your lodging business should harness all the advertising that is generated for this crazy holiday sales day. Your vacation location can be the perfect gift this season. Coming up with fun and unique gifts for family and friends can be a challenge. When you add hundreds of travel destinations and experiences, the options are infinite. Airbnb is actively marketing Experiences and that kind of gift is on the minds of many gift givers. This might be the best time to introduce a gift card/certificate/e-card program to your revenue sheet. The trend is to give experiences instead of items this holiday season. Big hotel brands such as Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons have gift card and e-gift card programs that can be used for lodging or other amenities at their properties. Online travel agents, such as Booking.com, and Hotels.com, also have gift card programs that can be used at multiple properties listed in their networks. Even Airbnb has its own gift card programs.
You should always be aiming to funnel direct bookings to your vacation lodging property. One way to do that can be through the marketing and sale of gift certificates. The gift certificate idea can be marketed directly at your property or on social media. Successful independent closed loop card (closed loop means, the card can only be used in the 1 specific store) programs take a lot of promotion and brainstorming to be successful. Your email list is going to be very important in this process. If you do not already have an email system, I highly recommend utilizing the Constant Contact platform. Creative campaigns can be sent to your existing email list to generate gift certificate and early booking sales. Facebook email capturing campaigns can be constructed to sell the gift certificates, or you can even promote a contest for one of your fans to win a gift certificate. Your guests need to be able to purchase cards or e-cards easily. If your booking system does not already facilitate gift certificates, a product category and possible e-commerce plug-in will need to be added to your website. Your booking system should be able to accommodate point of sale items. In addition to the online marketing, you should display signage in the guest rooms, at the front desk and even possibly on the breakfast tables.
Do gift card programs require a lot of administration?
The gift card/certificate world is definitely different for small lodging properties than for multi-million dollar hotel brands and online travel agents. The first obvious difference is that big properties are not going to handcraft and sign a paper gift certificate, they have a very sophisticated plastic and electronic card system. The 2nd obvious difference, in the State of Maine, is the liability the gift cards have. A company that sells over $250,000. is required to report any abandoned (non-used gift cards) to the State each year. The company is also required to pay the State 60% of the value of the cards not redeemed. Since the gift card never expires, if after 2 years, the recipient of the card redeems it, the company is required to honor the card and then apply for a refund from the State Treasury Department. The tracking of the cards could be done by software and a merchant account. It is unrealistic to think a small lodging would sell the $250,000 value that would trigger a report. An Innkeeper would have to be mindful of the liability on the books and have careful tracking. The gift cards might not be redeemed for years after purchase.
If you have decided that you are on-board with the gift certificate idea, I suggest you forget the handcrafted traditional certificate and look into the durable and loadable gift card program or utilize an online gift certificate program through your booking system. You need to make a long-term commitment to this potential revenue stream and create a plan around it. A cost analysis of the program regarding fees and administration should be carefully considered. Adding one more administrative task to already busy Innkeepers might be overwhelming. You could keep handwriting individual gift certificates, but keeping track of pieces of paper might be a challenge. Look into the card option. You will look professional and day-to-day management might be easier.
There are some open loop (more generic used gift cards) that may be used at your property also. If you are an Expedia Partner or on Booking. com or Airbnb, you should look into the policies of accepting gift cards for your property. Accepting gift cards is usually an opt-in process. Look at each company and determine if they are right for you.
Educate yourself on the different programs out there. Anything that can generate a sale in the competitive world of lodging is worth considering. I, personally, love the idea that someone will wake up on Christmas day, unwrap one of the many getaway gift cards and start to plan an exciting journey. We spend our whole careers encouraging people to travel. The thought of empowering gift givers this holiday season with a simple plastic card to entice loved ones to act on their wanderlust is a gift this travel industry professional treasures.
Kristen Bifulco, owner of SuiteRev, enjoys helping lodgings discover revenue in their properties.