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We hear a lot of talk in the digital marketing industry about gamification. It's become one of the latest buzzwords. But what exactly is gamification, and how are leading players in the travel industry using it to build brand loyalty and draw in more sales?

How Gamification Works

Gamification works by combining commonly used applications, such as customer loyalty programmes, with game playing techniques and rewards to create a more entertaining and competitive user experience. This is thought to motivate users more highly and therefore strengthen their engagement and increase brand loyalty.

The travel industry already has its traditional air miles and hotel loyalty schemes, but as gamification as a marketing tool gains popularity across a broad spectrum of industries, so the travel industry has felt compelled to catch up.

Gamification in Hospitality

One good example of innovative gamification in the travel industry is Starwood's recent collaboration with Foursquare. The international hotel chain joined forces with the location-based social app to enhance Starwood's traditional guest loyalty programme by adding game playing features. Loyalty programme users were given the opportunity to link their Foursquare accounts to their Starwood accounts to take advantage of a special summer promotion. Users with confirmed hotel reservations could earn 250 extra Starpoints (Starwood loyalty points) just by checking into a Starwood hotel on Foursquare and sharing the check-in with their network via the app. They could also use Foursquare to collect more badges and unlock various rewards (such as a five-night hotel getaway deal). The campaign also included a competitive element, where the person with the most Foursquare checkins at Starwood hotels could win the title of 'SPG Mayor', and the chance to share their travel tips with the community. This gave them them great kudos among the Foursquare community, while promoting the Starwood brand at the same time.

Gamification in the Airline Industry

Airlines are also keen to get involved in gamification as part of their marketing campaigns. US carrier JetBlue introduced 'TrueBlue Badges', a rewards-based game platform for its TrueBlue members.

Members have the option to turn on the Badges programme, where they can then unlock 292 badges depending on travel, (for example, flying to a new city), loyalty (such as referring friends or sharing badges on social media channels, or by engagement with one of JetBlue's partner's (such as American Express or Hertz).

Most Foursquare badges come with non-expirable reward points, offering users a new way to earn miles even after the flight itself. The social component adds an element of competitiveness to the programme, while offering users the option to link their TrueBlue Badges to their Facebook or Twitter account, they also can view the leaderboard to see how they fare against the competition.

Engages Existing User Base and Captivates New Customers

Gamification is an excellent way to engage your user base and develop greater loyalty among them, while introducing a highly social aspect to your marketing campaigns. Hosting regular contests and social programmes of this sort also helps strengthen a brand's image as customer-friendly, socially-minded and digitally-engaged. It can also catch the eye of other potential customer and bring them into the fold.

The statistics reflect this view, with a recent study by Gigya showing that gamification increases engagement by one-third, improving online commenting by 13%, social sharing by 22% and content discovery by 68%! Additionally, a recent Gartner report predicts that by next year, more than 70% of Global 2000 organisations will have at least one gamified application.

In our increasingly connected world, engaging customers such a fun and competitive way is an opportunity that brands really can't afford to miss.

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