The concept of gamification
in travel is nothing new. Game theories and strategies have been used by brands
in the leisure
and corporate travel space for years as a way to incentivize a desired
In 2013, Expedia ran
a 15-week game on its website, “Around
the World in 100 Days,” that rewarded players with Expedia Rewards points.
And one of the initial strategies of travel and expense management company TripActions
when it was founded in 2015 was to reward
business travelers for choosing cost-effective hotel rooms or flights. And
of course the format of standard travel loyalty programs – built on the ability
to earn and burn rewards – is based on game theory.
But now a
convergence of factors are prompting some travel brands to embrace the power of
gaming to grow their brands.
First is the fact
penetration globally has jumped – from 3.7 billion subscribers in 2016 to
an estimated 6.6 billion this year.
gaming is more popular than ever – as of last May Statista estimates there are one
billion online gamers worldwide, with the growth driven in part by an uptick
in adoption during COVID lockdowns.
And finally, brands
are taking inspiration from super apps such as Pinduoduo, a Chinese e-commerce
platform that uses both gaming strategies and offers games within the app.
Pinduoduo launched in 2015 and had more than 741
million monthly active users as of Q3 2021 – up 15% from one year prior.
Beginning today, OYO
users in the United States will see a new “gaming zone” in the brand’s app.
This follows the launch a few weeks ago for app users in India, Malaysia and
partnership with gaming company Gamezop, the interface offers users a choice of
10 games with titles such as Fruit Chop and Furious Speed.
Prasun Choudhary, president
of OYO International, says the company began developing the gaming zone in the
last few months as a way to drive user engagement and to minimize the chance
that some of the 100 million people who have downloaded the app will uninstall
“Games as a way to
retain and engage customers has been slowly gaining ground in every industry,” he
“So that’s where the idea developed - how can we bring in
games to retain our customers, improve sessions per user, improve retention per
And Choudhary says the issue of repeat engagement is particularly
critical in travel since it is not a frequent purchase.
“If I book something today I’m not going to book tomorrow
again. There is a cycle. So how can we make sure that the consumer that comes
to our app comes not just for booking but engages with us in other formats,” he
The gaming zone includes a leaderboard updated in real-time
that displays high scores. Top performers win prizes in the form of discounted
or free future stays in OYO properties and gifts from outside vendors such as
Amazon gift cards.
Choudhary says the gaming zone will be added to the app in
additional markets, likely the United Kingdom next and then markets in Latin
America. Over time and with the help of machine learning, the experience may
become customized based on user preferences.
And he says the company is continuing to explore other ways
the OYO app can be enhanced to provide value beyond booking travel.
“What we are doing at the end of the day is building an entire travel experience,”
Hopper is also testing and developing games and game
theory-based strategies for its app.
“Because we are
mobile and because we have really high retention, we see a lot of opportunities
to learn from other leaders in mobile as much as we learn from leaders in
travel,” says Makoto Rheault-Kihara, Hopper’s head of user acquisition.
“Super apps are a
great example. The primary apps in Latin America and Asia, the way they build
out the merchandising in the app, the way that they build out the growth and
retention mechanisms in the app, are very different than what travel companies
are doing but even North American companies in general. And one of the things
they do really well is gamification.”
he cannot yet share specifics, but the company is “running tests and seeing
good results” as it determines how to incorporate both game theory - in the sense
of rewarding users for taking desired actions in the app - and actual games
that are both fun to play and that drive shopping behavior.
The work is being
led by an in-house team that he describes as “a mobile game team working on
travel rather than a travel team working on gaming.”
One of the company’s
primary sources of inspiration is Pinduoduo, which CEO Fred
Lalonde often mentions in relation to his efforts to turn
Hopper into a super app.
Rheault-Kihara shares the example of a Pinduoduo game that requires users to
virtually water a fruit tree every day, leading to the growth of fruit that can
be converted into discounts and products in the app.
“That game has 60 million daily active users, and it’s one
of their big retention mechanisms,” he says.
“Rather than telling users you should open our app every day,
it’s a lot easier to put in some kind of fun mechanism that encourages them to
do that naturally and then rewards them at the end with a discount that then leads
to a purchase as well. So those kind of overall mechanisms are something that
we’re really interested in.”
Additional inspiration from Pinduoduo is the way the company
uses social commerce by providing discounts to users that make purchases
together – something Rheault-Kihara says Hopper is considering, for example, by
providing a discount on hotel rates for users that book together.
And he says Hopper – which has never
invested in paid search marketing – is particularly interested in Pinduoduo’s
strategy of using its marketing budget to give discounts and financial rewards
to users for doing things like inviting friends to use the app, logging in
regularly and browsing the app regularly.
a very kind of linear relationship between incentivizing users to do what you
want them to do by paying marketing dollars directly into users’ wallets rather
paying marketing dollars to Facebook and Google to try to acquire users and
convert them in some others means,” he says.
whole concept of users earning discounts as they use the app is something that
we are really interested in, and we’re starting to test.”