Gainesville Regional Pumps Up the Perks with Customer Reward Program

Author: 
Jennifer Bradley
Published in: 
March-April
2012

It's a buyer's world these days. From "Have it Your Way" to "Because You're Worth It," businesses appeal to consumers' emotional desires like never before. And airports are no exception. Many use rewards programs to make their customers feel appreciated and encourage repeat visits.
The Road Warrior Club, for instance, is in full swing at Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV) in Florida. With no cost to participate and monthly drawings for more than 20 prizes, the club has nearly 900 members on its rolls. Recently, the three-gate, 300,000-annual-passenger airport added a members-only lounge for its special subset of travelers.  

Exclusive, But Diverse
Laura Aguiar, manager of public relations and governmental affairs at GNV, says that one of the challenges running the four-year-old program is appealing to once-in-a-while travelers as well as super travelers. "Those less-frequent flyers are important to us," Aguiar explains.

Previously, she noticed that travelers making several trips per month were consistently taking home the larger prizes. "There are enough of them to compete for it," she acknowledges. But she still felt it was important to spread out rewards to other travelers, too.




factsfigures

Project: Customer Reward Program

Location: Gainesville (FL) Regional Airport

Program Name: Road Warrior Club

Annual Airport Passengers: 300,000

Club Members: 900

Monthly Prizes: 20+

Cost to Airport: $0

Program Launch: 2008

Key Benefits: Builds relationship & encourages loyalty from frequent & occasional travelers; strengthens ties with businesses that donate prizes

Now, Aguiar tallies each member's roundtrips, and whoever has the most earns a gift certificate (usually perks at a variety of restaurants and shops.) The majority of the monthly prizes, however, are awarded via random drawings, with every member who logged at least one trip that month receiving the same chance to win. Prizes for the drawings include local museum passes, tickets to theater performances, rounds of golf and vouchers for coffee at the airport.

The program is paid for by local sponsors, less a few administrative costs, explains Aguiar. Club sponsors are promoted with logo placements and hyperlinks in weekly emails to members. "It's a really nice marketing tool for our sponsors," she says.

The newest perk for Road Warrior Club members is a private lounge, sponsored and decorated by a local interior design business.

Inside the Mind of a Warrior
According to Aguiar, the most tangible benefit of GNV's loyalty program is the relationship it has helped build between the airport, its customers and the community. "(It) has helped us establish excellent rapport with our loyal travelers," she explains. 

Michael McCall, a professor and department chair at the Marketing & Law School of Business at New York's Ithaca College, agrees that a loyalty program is not just for attracting repeat patronage. "It's about having this engaged connection," McCall explains. 

Aguiar, for instance, knows the names and faces of club members, and she corresponds with them on a regular basis for reasons other than tallying trips or issuing rewards. Such familiarity has proved invaluable when the airport needs input about facility renovations, developing new air services or general customer service issues. "They've been fabulous," Aguiar says. "They're savvy business travelers and know how important that feedback is."

Members seem to appreciate the relationship, too. Drew Bentley joined the Road Warrior Club when he started traveling regularly for his job as a field service engineer for Invivo Diagnostic Imaging. When Bentley began logging his monthly trips, he started seeing the rewards stack up. "It's a really nice gesture," he notes.

Before he began flying regularly, Bentley says he would drive the extra 90 minutes to Jacksonville International Airport to save an average of $150 per airfare. "Once (GNV) started to pick up the rewards is when I decided to go locally," he explains.

Bentley sees the consistent growth and improvement of the airport and its services as evidence that GNV truly values the input it receives from club members. 

From the club sponsors' perspective, Amy Douglas with the University of Florida Performing Arts values the opportunity to simultaneously build a relationship with theater audiences and with the airport.

For the past two years, Douglas has watched the Road Warrior Club promote both the airport and Gainesville's live arts community. "We broaden people's expectations of the arts and allow them to 'travel the world' - whether by flying or attending one of our events," she explains.

The Competitive Edge
According to McCall, effective loyalty programs can help an airport remain competitive. Giving patrons a choice within the program, he adds, is a key element.

With American Airlines pioneering the loyalty program concept in 1981, it's no wonder the idea crossed over into airports themselves. Some are expanding the idea by rewarding members for everything they buy at the airport (parking, dining, retail goods, etc.), rather than just flight activity.

"Airports have long recognized they are competing with each other, especially when airfares are competitive or the same carrier is serving multiple airports," explains Debby McElroy, executive vice president of policy and external affairs at Airports Council International - North America (ACI-NA).
She and McCall both identify online booking services that immediately ask passengers if they'd like to compare rates at nearby airports as a major factor spurring the current competition raging in the airport sector. 

With larger airports offering more flight options in nearby Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa, GNV is subject to the online lineup every day. To remain competitive, notes Aguiar, its website includes a cost calculator that includes tolls, parking fees and mileage costs when comparing GNV fares to nearby airports'. 

"It helps them see just how competitive we are," she says. "It has helped us a lot, in conjunction with the Road Warrior Club."

Perks are Popular
McElroy cites the Fly Lafayette Club at Louisiana's Lafayette Regional Airport as one of the many successful loyalty programs she encounters through ACI-NA. Its model is similar to GNV's, with local businesses trading prizes for marketing exposure with members.  

One of the inherent strengths of such programs, notes McElroy, is that customers must opt into them. "I think this is recognition that the traveler sees great value in airport loyalty programs," she explains.

Some airports use on-site amenities - especially parking or other services - as customer perks. Nashville International operates a dedicated frequent-parker program that allows travelers to earn a variety of parking benefits.

More than 100 airports participate in the "Thanks Again" program, which rewards customers with airline miles for parking, shopping or dining at the airport.

ACI-NA members can benchmark themselves against other airports by accessing the association's comparative surveys about airport amenities and loyalty programs. The reports segment data by airport size.

While McElroy stresses that loyalty programs don't "make or break" airports, she also notes that the marketing tools are "here to stay" and are likely to become more prominent as airfare pricing remains competitive.

McCall emphasizes the potential of airport loyalty programs: "If a traveler believes the brand is high quality, and believes the loyalty program rewards properly, you're going to get more bang for your buck." 

Subcategory: 
Operations

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