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Casino's Companion Ticket Promotion Hits the Jackpot

Author: William Keenan

How do you engage customers who’ve ‘seen it all’ when it comes to promotions? Atrium Enterprises found a unique way to get their attention

By William Keenan

What can you offer casino patrons as a promotion that they haven’t been offered before? After all, casinos are in the business of attracting customers who have been “wined and dined” like few others. Casino patrons are constantly bombarded with match play coupons, bonus slot play, double points, free food, free shows, comp accommodations and other offers. What can they possibly offer that’s going to excite and engage these perennially pampered patrons?

The answer is simple: offer something of value that customers and prospects are going to view as different and appealing – something that sparks their interest and attention. For a prominent Connecticut casino promoting a Travel Expo event, the offer, appropriately enough, was “The Gift of Travel Savings” – in this case, international companion airline tickets (ICATs) provided by LVI/Thomas Cook Travel.

The promotion, put together by Atrium Enterprises, which partners with LVI/Thomas Cook to create custom travel incentive products, essentially offered customers a free companion airline ticket, good for a year, in return for coming to the casino/resort during the weekend of a scheduled Travel Expo.

According to Ken Sternfeld, President of Atrium, the promotion wound up being one of the most successful promotions in the history of the casino. “They sold out the hotel for the weekend,” he says. “The goal was to get people to come to the hotel for the weekend, and that goal was met – and exceeded.”

A Segmented Reward

Sternfeld says the promotion was basically an enhancement of the property’s existing customer loyalty program. It launched with a direct mail piece that went out to 125,000 of the casino’s loyal customers inviting them to the Travel Expo event. The ICATs offer was segmented into three tiers, depending on how much money a customer had spent at the casino in the past.

The first tier – those the casino identified as its “mass” of loyal customers – offered a free companion ticket through LVI/Thomas Cook that was good for one use over the course of one year for travel to 105 U.S. cities, including Honolulu, plus international destinations in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

The second tier, targeting mid-level players and bigger spenders, offered a companion ticket that could be used up to four times in the course of the year, and it included European destinations as well as the international and U.S. destinations available to first-tier participants.

The top tier of the promotion was aimed at the smallest, most exclusive group, those the casino identified as its “high roller” types as well as its top Asian players, group that was a top concern for this particular casino. The top-tier companion ticket could also be used up to four times in the course of the year and was good for travel to all of the U.S., international, and European destinations allowed by the mid-tier, plus destinations in Southeast Asia. “So literally the customer would be able to buy a ticket to Hong Kong and get a ticket to Hong Kong for free,” explains Sternfeld, “which makes it a huge, high-end incentive product.”

In addition, the gift was transferable, so the recipient could give it as a gift to a son, daughter, or other family member or friend. In all, the casino distributed more than 8,000 travel certificates during the event.

High Value, Low Cost

Despite the high perceived value of the reward – which could add up to four free trips to European and Southeast Asian destinations – the cost to the casino was relatively low. According to Sternfeld, the first-tier companion ticket was a $50 acquisition cost item, “so these customers got a gift that had a perceived value in the hundreds of dollars, but at a very low actual cost.” And that perceived value was multiplied exponentially for the middle and top tiers, which bore an actual cost to the casino of $100 and $250, respectively.

The travel certificates performed a dual function, also serving as a long-term reminder of the casino’s generosity to the customer. “It was a targeted promotion, and we spent a lot of time engaged with the casino/resort beforehand to understand their business model and create a customized, branded solution,” Sternfeld notes, “so that travel certificate, branded with the casino’s name, basically stayed in the hands of the customer for an entire year. If nine months later they wanted to use it for a trip, they would take that certificate out and be reminded of the fact that this particular casino had given it to them as a gift. So from a customer engagement standpoint it’s a one-year engagement.”

And how can Atrium offer such a high-value gift at such a relatively low cost? Steve Karoul, a casino consultant who worked with Atrium on the promotion, explains that, in a way, Atrium and LVI/Thomas Cook are in the gambling business as well.

“International companion airline tickets (ICATs) work on the ‘breakage percentage’ – the fact that only a calculated percentage of customers who receive them will actually use them, or will use only a portion of their value,” Karoul explains. “And leveraging the enormous buying power they have with major airlines, LVI/Thomas Cook can obtain the tickets at deeply discounted pricing in the first place, making this business model extremely attractive for promotions.”

A Personal Touch

And don’t forget that customers had to come onsite to collect the companion travel reward, so the casino was also able to personally engage with these targeted customers. A reception/redemption center was set up in the Grand Ballroom of the hotel, and Atrium staff worked closely with the casino’s Special Events and Promotions staff to be available to explain the promotion and answer any questions.

In addition to engaging target customers at the reception/redemption event, Atrium also created a branded website for the promotion that went online 30 days prior to the Travel Expo, and the URL was printed on all of the direct-mail pieces. “We described how the registration process at the event would work, how to redeem the companion tickets and explained that there would be casino hosts available onsite to answer questions,” says Sternfeld, “so customers arrived fully informed, ready and anxious to pick up their gift – some people drove upwards of two-and-a-half hours to get the gift, and they didn’t even stay at the hotel.”

As further proof of just how successful the ICATs promotion was for this casino, Sternfeld reports that when the phones opened up for people to redeem their companion travel certificates on the Monday following the Travel Expo, they fielded close to 1,000 calls.

This is one gamble that obviously paid off big for both Atrium and the client.

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Fall 2011

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