A good loyalty program can be a helpful marketing tool for hotel properties — and yes, that includes boutique hotel operators, not just large chains.

Loyalty matters

First, keep in mind that although location and price continue as key drivers of hotel bookings, a growing proportion of consumers (18% according to one study) also site the availability of a loyalty/frequent guest program as a deciding factor in their hotel selection. More good news for you: an even larger factor overall is the guest experience.

The key to success is to use your loyalty program to capitalize on all the great qualities that make a smaller property appealing — such as outstanding service, warm hospitality and luxury touches — while using it strategically to support sales.

Provide extras

One simple and very easy way to do this is by combining your loyalty program with other perks to make members feel extra special. For example, the Kimpton Hotels InTouch program is free to join and automatically entitles members to immediate bonuses such as free WiFi and a $10 credit for the minibar or restaurant bar.

An important stat to keep in mind: 34% of respondents to a Hotels.com survey said free WiFi is the number one factor in choosing a hotel, and 56% named WiFi as their number-one must-have for business travel.

Other perks to consider include members-only cocktail hours and events, spa credits, upgrades, early check-in/late check-out, extra in-room snacks and an online tracking of special requests and preferences.

Providing these extras can be inexpensive of cost-free to you, and can enhance the cachet and luxury that many visitors seek from a boutique hotel.

Reward now

The other benefit of this approach is that it provides instant gratification instead of requiring members to wait months before they see any benefits to membership, which for some consumers can be a disincentive to using a program.

Another method is to provide options that reward the occasional traveler. For example, give them an opportunity to cash in now for upgrades, or a free night during a longer stay.

Part of the value of a loyalty program is winning rave reviews and recommendations, so this type of goodwill gesture will not go unrewarded.

Encourage returns

That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t also have a reward structure that encourages repeat visits. After all, you don’t want to become a “one-off” experiment.

Structure your program to encourage and reward repeat visits and longer stays, for the needs of both leisure and business travellers. After the tenth visit, get one free night, or book a longer four-day stay now and enjoy the fifth night free, for example.

Drive profits as well as sales

You can also put your program to work to increase your bottom line. Try offering incentives to guests who book through your website or by phone, rather than through a third-party booking site. Strategic use of print and/or online ads can help encourage this.

Once they arrive, use the loyalty program to help cross-sell additional services such as restaurant meals or spa services during their stay by offering extra points or miles. More purchases equals more points and miles for guests — and more revenues for you.

Encourage service and smiles

As a smaller property, service is your strength. A happy, motivated, dedicated staff will help you excel in this area.

The JD Power 2013 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, for example, suggests that the more interactions they have with your staff (assuming they are positive ones!), the happier your guests are likely to be. Even a friendly greeting in the hallway can play a part in making a guest feel satisfied.

Depending on your loyalty program, you may be able to use it to reinforce positive interactions by rewarding staff. How? That leads us to the next point….

Appeal to a wider audience

If you don’t yet have a loyalty program and are considering initiating one, think beyond the boundaries of your own property and appeal to a wider audience by participating in a larger program instead of starting your own.

If you offer points or miles in a nationally known program, for example, you become more recognizable to first time visitors who may be unfamiliar with your name, but who know and appreciate the program.

A loyalty program that allows your guests to collect elsewhere (including other hotels and even other businesses beyond the travel industry) will have broader appeal.

Points Business Solutions grants your business the ability to connect with 16 of the world’s largest loyalty programs. Programs such as these enable you to appeal to a vast market of collectors eager to earn more of a currency they already have.

So yes, loyalty can work for boutique hotels – the trick is to choose the right set of tactics and use them strategically.