We know it’s important for travel loyalty programs to offer sustainability-related earning and redemption options and that sustainability influences brand choice. But what about the relationship between sustainability and the loyalty experience? Why should brands highlight their own environmentally conscious practices and the sustainability options they already have incorporated into their loyalty frameworks - and what impact can this have on their businesses?
Travelers prioritize sustainable options
The first reason is to meet customer expectations. Travelers have consistently expressed their preference for sustainability-related booking, earning, and redemption options. In a report we published earlier this year, the Tipping Point for Travel Loyalty, we found that 65% of consumers would be more likely to book travel through their loyalty program if it offered more sustainable choices or received bonuses or incentives for booking climate-friendly options. Other research has found that 90% of travelers seek sustainable options when planning a trip.
So highlighting the availability of eco-friendly accommodations, flights, and other travel options is simply an act of meeting consumer demand on the part of the travel loyalty program, right? Yes, but it's also much more than that. It signals that the program understands its members’ preferences and priorities and is flexible and feature-rich enough to present those options to members when they want them. For this same reason, travel loyalty programs must expand the range of sustainability options they offer so that members who don’t necessarily need to redeem or book their core travel components through the program can still see their commitment to lessening their environmental impact reflected elsewhere.
Consumers gravitate to brands that share their values
That commitment, along with their preference and demand for sustainable travel options, is an expression of consumers’ values. And with so many choices available to them, consumers are increasingly keen to patronize only those brands that share their values. In fact, in the 12 months preceding a 2023 survey conducted by the Loyalty Science Lab at Old Dominion University (partially commissioned by iSeatz), 28% of consumers said whether a brand aligned with their values had become more important when making loyalty decisions.
This makes sustainability central to the loyalty experience, especially the travel loyalty experience: it’s a recognizable value that can be actioned immediately. When a loyalty program member redeems their points for carbon offsets, they know they have made a choice – enabled by their loyalty program – that expresses their values. When members earn bonus points for booking at a hotel with sustainability certification, they are rewarded for choosing an option that reflects their commitment to reducing their travel carbon footprint directly facilitated by their loyalty program.
Aligning values and consumer demand
The combination of these two elements – demonstrating to members that the brand shares its values and providing the booking, earning, and redemption options to meet their demand for sustainability – is the sweet spot for travel loyalty programs. Statements about a brand’s own environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards are also important, but they are ultimately less impactful (in terms of demonstrating shared values) than the availability of sustainability options that members can act on.
This is why loyalty programs that already have sustainability options integrated into their offerings should highlight them, make them discoverable, and present them to specific members who have articulated their preference for them and otherwise make them central to their loyalty experience.
It’s also why programs should prioritize expanding their portfolio of sustainability-related rewards, primarily since many of those options can be implemented with minimal resources or development.
By pursuing these tactics, brands can deepen their relationships with customers and broaden their programs' appeal to potential members eager to give their loyalty to brands with similar values and priorities.
Sustainability can be an integral part of an effective, engagement-maximizing loyalty strategy. And you can read more about the relationship between sustainability and travel loyalty in the Tipping Point for Travel Loyalty report here.