Hospitality industry icon Ellis Connolly and tech visionary Jen Wong are the dream team disrupting the status quo with personalized rewards and instant gratification
There’s an age-old adage that reads, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For decades, this sentiment has shaped the hospitality industry, especially regarding technology adoption. Unlike other consumer-centric sectors, which are quick to adapt to consumer demands and trends, hospitality prides itself on being firmly rooted in tradition. But in many ways, this subscription to the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality is limiting at best and damaging to the industry at worst, because when we pull back the curtain on legacy systems and processes, it’s clear that some things are, in fact, broken.
Perhaps, traditional hotel loyalty programs are the perfect example of this problem at work. For years, the “points-based” loyalty system has reigned supreme – not due to perceived excellence or superiority to other formats, but simply because it was what hospitality brands had always done. Yet, it’s no secret that this traditional approach to guest loyalty leaves much to be desired; not only does it often fail to delight (or even satisfy) guests, it also often fails to derive ROI and benefit a hotel’s bottom line in any meaningful way. This begs the question – why haven’t we done anything to change it? Is there not a better way?
There is a better way, and the minds behind Laasie have not only imagined and developed the concept; they’ve proven that it works. I recently sat down with Jen Wong, the CEO of Laasie, and Ellis Connolly, the CRO of Laasie, to discuss the modern, AI-powered loyalty program primed to disrupt how hotels approach guest loyalty.
Unlike loyalty programs of the past, the Laasie platform is decidedly dynamic and based on the provision of personalized rewards and instant gratification rather than hard-to-redeem points. The idea is simple but undeniably impactful: reward customers for their actions while generating insights from every interaction, booking direct, or enjoying on-property activities. “The idea was initially brought to life in 2015, and the timing was right,” explains Wong. “Expedia had just bought Orbitz in 2015, so we saw an opportunity. It had become a duopoly. Expedia and Booking.com owned the entire market, essentially making it even harder and more expensive for hotels to win direct bookings and avoid intermediary OTA fees. So, we came up with a way to instantly reward a traveler for their behavior by giving someone high-perceived-value rewards instantly, upon a desired action.”
When I asked Wong if Laasie is creating an entirely new category of loyalty, her answer was a resounding “yes,” delivered with an undeniably confident smile. “We are an incentive platform, we are industry agnostic, and we can influence different behaviors and KPIs that matter to hotels,” she explains. “Whether it’s to drive more call center bookings, whether it’s to drive more people to sign up to a marketing database, or simply getting guests to spend more money across the brand, we’ve developed the perfect system to do that at scale, in a way that promises ROI that traditional loyalty programs simply never could.”
Chiming in, Connolly notes the tangible power of instant gratification. “I think we are going to start to see the Laasie platform merging with those traditional, points-based programs because you can still run a ‘parallel-to-points’ strategy with us. Laasie is a true incentives engine focused on hotel and hospitality, but our platform does have many other use cases that we are getting ready to deploy based on the wants and needs of the brands we serve.”
According to Connolly, these use cases include but are not limited to: survey participation, on-property purchases, luxury amenity use or on-property experiences (i.e., Scuba lessons), and more. “There is a very definitive line with who or what types of hotels and hotel brands can typically leverage, execute, maintain and support a points-based loyalty program. For many brands, the cost of running a points-based loyalty system supersedes the ROI in a way that directly impacts that hotel’s balance sheet,” explains Connolly. “What we offer is an easily deployed loyalty platform. You turn it on, and you immediately have a loyalty program with rewards. It truly is that easy, but the second we mention the word loyalty to hotels, they get scared. Why? Because traditionally loyalty has never been this easy, and certainly not this cost-effective, so it almost seems too good to be true.”
Fortunately, it is not too good to be true for hotel brands of all sizes and scale. Not only has Laasie demonstrated proof-of-concept with thousands of happy customers, a network of 1,000+ big-name instant gratification partners, and delivered over $500 million in direct bookings, Laasie also offers unparalleled support. “We support, own, and manage the whole thing. Customer service if someone has questions about a reward? We support that,” adds Connolly. “If we look to those traditional programs, not only are points often hard to accumulate and subject to expiration, but half the time, hotels don’t even know what they offer their loyalty members anymore. What if their guests don’t want 25% off an additional night stay? What if they don’t want a free bottle of local wine? We are cutting out a lot of the work by negotiating great offers from a vetted network of merchants. For an individual hotel to do what we’ve done would require an inconceivable amount of leg-work and relationship management.”
This is an important distinction – unlike its loyalty predecessors, Laasie offers complete ease-of-use via a uniquely turn-key, enterprise-ready solution that promises to drive immediate revenue. Moreover, traditional loyalty programs don’t even offer guests a choice in what they “earn.” If the purpose of a loyalty program is to delight guests and, subsequently, earn their continued loyalty, shouldn’t hotels be offering personalized rewards rather than generic ones? “Guests aren’t offered a choice, and they want choice. Guests expect personalization from hospitality brands today, especially within the leisure market,” shares Wong. “We make it very achievable for customers to stay loyal to your brand by instantly rewarding them for every transaction and every engagement. We have simplified loyalty.”
Ultimately, this is precisely what new technology is meant to offer the hospitality industry – streamlined simplicity. “It just works,” says Connolly, mirroring the confident assurance of his colleague. “We turn it on, and hotel direct booking conversions immediately. It’s limitless, effortless, it’s not boring or generic, there are no expiry dates like the traditional ‘earn-and-burn’ model, and people get to choose high-value rewards that are relevant to them.” This model effectively elevates the brand experience and makes each guest’s stay more memorable, thus driving loyalty, retention, and purchase behavior to finally allow hotels to compete with OTAs and maintain their desired rates.
Laasie leverages AI to serve up a selection of relevant rewards to each guest. We are analogous to Netflix in this way. Just as Netflix can predict what shows you want to watch next, we use a similar machine-learning model to identify each individual’s most optimal mix of incentives. Laasie also collects relevant and appropriate data points and then converts this data into actionable insights to inform business strategy.
As for the future, Laasie has big plans in store. “Whether it’s used on its own or in tandem with a points-based system, our instant, reward-based loyalty is the new industry standard,” shares Wong. “Laasie has done really well impacting the direct web channel,” interjects Connolly. “You come onto the website, we usher you through the funnel, we convert you and send you the rewards, but there are other channels to optimize as well. As we mentioned before, Laasie can be leveraged to ‘save-the-sale,’ to remedy service breakdowns, to drive call center bookings, newsletter sign-ups, survey participation, and so much more.”
Continuing on, Connolly adds, “We know we can impact bookings, but we can also reward different types of guests and behaviors. And I really think as we continue in this market, the industry will see how Laasie impacts business travel, specifically. Hotel brands will be able to leverage instant rewards to give business travelers higher value rewards, gifts, and guest recognition that will not only help this segment to recover post-pandemic – but thrive.”
Laasie isn’t just a new take on hospitality loyalty – it’s the ultimate industry influencer.