The rise of gamification in hospitality and travelNewsBy Viewpoints | September 4, 2013Share This article was originally published on NB: This is a viewpoint by Scott Meldrum, Executive Director for Interactive at WDCW.“Gamification” is a buzzword that keeps popping up among advertising and marketing professionals today.Essentially, gamification takes traditionally non-game applications and integrates game play mechanics and rewards in order to motivate users and thus enhance customer engagement.At its core, gamification is nothing new to the hospitality and travel industries – just think of frequent flier and hotel loyalty programs – but as more and more realms including healthcare, sustainability and finance begin to leverage gamification through digital tools and social media, hospitality and travel are stepping up to the plate in new and innovative ways.HotelsStarwood Hotels and Resorts recently teamed with Foursquare to enhance its traditional Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program with game-play properties.By linking their SPG and Foursquare accounts for a special summer promotion, users with confirmed reservations could earn 250 additional Starpoints by checking in to a Starwood hotel on Foursquare, and unlock other potential rewards (including a five-night resort getaway) and badges.Thanks to Foursquare, the promotion also offered an engaging social aspect where each month the person with the most Foursquare check-ins across all Starwood properties was named the SPG Mayor and was encouraged to share travel tips and favorite destinations with other Starwood travelers. The promotion proved a wild success among SPG members – in just a few months, SPG gave out nearly ten million points.InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) also introduced gamification techniques into its longstanding loyalty program with “Win It In A Minute.”This daily online trivia game allows users to compete for free miles, and it became an immediate hit. IHG reports that in the first two weeks alone, users played 100,000 games and earned more than 100 million Priority Club points. The success of “Win It In A Minute” shows that gamification endeavors do not need to be elaborate in order to successfully improve brand loyalty and engagement.AirlinesAirlines are getting in on the gamification fun as well.Air Canada’s “Earn Your Wings” promotion created a leaderboard showcasing top fliers according to various activities including miles flown and badges earned from specific check-in challenges (e.g. checking in at airports in two different soccer-loving destinations would unlock the International Football Badge).Frequent fliers increased their engagement in order to have a shot at moving up on the leaderboard – after all, the grand prize was 10 million miles split between the top players. By the end of the promotional period, “Earn Your Wings” had registration levels at double the predicted amount.Down in the U.S., Virgin America launched the “Go Big” promotion in honor of its sixth anniversary this summer, encouraging those in its Elevate frequent flier program to play bingo through Virgin America’s in-flight WiFi for a chance to win one of over 70 prizes – including the grand prize of 500,000 Elevate points.We won’t know the results until after the promotion wraps on September 6, but since Virgin America is one of the fastest-growing carriers in the U.S., it’s safe to assume that they’ll have great participation.Lastly, this summer JetBlue introduced TrueBlue Badges, a rewards-based game platform for its TrueBlue members.Members have the option to turn on the Badges program, where they can then unlock 292 (and counting) badges depending on travel (e.g. flying to a new city or visiting one city multiple times), loyalty (e.g. referring friends or sharing badges via Facebook or Twitter), partner engagement (e.g. getting a JetBlue card from American Express or booking a rental car through Hertz or Avis), and more (e.g. flying during your birthday month).Most badges come with rewards points – which never expire – offering fliers a new way to earn miles beyond just the flight itself. There is also a social component – in addition to having the option to link TrueBlue Badges to a Facebook or Twitter account, there is the leaderboard, where users can see how they stack up against the competition.The TrueBlue Badges program is unique among gamification ventures in the airline industry because it is a permanent feature of JetBlue’s loyalty program, rather than a one-time promotion. We look forward to seeing how the program evolves and how it may impact traditional loyalty programs across the industry.Gamification increases engagement, and ultimately, loyaltyGamification can be a great way to strengthen customer loyalty and engagement, and to introduce a social aspect to loyalty programs that traditionally have not had any inherently community-based features. Laying the groundwork for social interaction among users can improve a brand’s social media presence and pique the interest of other potential customers.In fact, a recent study by Gigya showed that gamification improves engagement by one-third, with online commenting improving by 13%, social media sharing improving by 22%, and content discovery improving by a whopping 68%.Today we are more wired than ever before, allowing brands to deepen their marketing efforts by offering greater and more meaningful customer engagement tools – and there is no doubt that gamification is on the rise as a result.A recent Gartner reportpredicts that by next year, more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application. And by 105, M2 Research projects that more than $2 billion will be spent on gamification services.Given these numbers, advertisers and marketers in hospitality and travel would be wise to watch this space and work to create innovative ways for their brands to stay ahead of the curve.NB: This is a viewpoint by Scott Meldrum, Executive Director for Interactive at WDCW.NB2: Boardgame image courtesy Shutterstock.