IN-DEPTH: Interview with Geoff Lewis, Co-Founder & CEO, Topguest
Published: 17 Dec 2010
IN-DEPTH: Interview with Geoff Lewis, Co-Founder & CEO, Topguest
By Ritesh Gupta
“Get real points, miles, and perks for places check-ins”.
This is what Topguest, a free members-only mobile application, is all about for travellers. The application gives its users real hotel points, air miles, and elite travel perks automatically for sharing their travels virtually, or to be specific for geo-location check-ins regardless of the geolocation check-in service being used.
To its credit, San Francisco Bay Area–based Topguest has tied up with diverse hotel, airline, restaurant, and car hire companies. The company says it has entered into partnerships with many of the top real points programmes for travellers, such as Virgin America Elevate, Hilton HHonors, and Priority Club.
These entities are integrating with Topguest to award real value for digital loyalty.
Travel companies are increasingly rewarding customers for their affiliation towards social networks and location-based services.
From a hotel’s perspective, Greg Brown, VP, Loyalty & Relationship Marketing, Choice Hotels International, says, “Time will tell (potential of such tie-ups), but we think this is an interesting opportunity. We are testing such a programme now with Topguest.”
Last month, when Virgin America shared that it became the first airline to offer frequent flyer points for location-based virtual ‘check-ins’, it indicated that its flyers tend to be tech-forward and more plugged in to social networks and location-based services.
Brett Billick, director of CRM at Virgin America, shared, “With the rapid growth and popularity of location-based apps, this is something our guests have actually been asking for – and we think it will provide an inventive new way for our travelers to earn Elevate (Elevate is Virgin America’s frequent flyer programme) rewards.”
According to Virgin, guests traveling with the airline are now able to earn bonus Elevate points just by virtually ‘checking in’ at the airline’s airport terminals, gates and other locations. Each ‘Check-in’ using popular location-based mobile applications like Facebook Places and Foursquare will earn guests 25 Elevate points. Generally, the airline says it allots five points per dollar spent on travel.
As a specialist in geo-smart customer relationship management solutions, Topguest says the game has just started as far as the adoption curve of 'check in' behaviour is concerned.
Assessing the progress with EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta, Geoff Lewis, Co-Founder & CEO, Topguest, says, “It’s still very early, as we’re also very early in the adoption curve of 'check in' behaviour among consumers. Right now, the industry is at the “let’s test this out and see what it can do” phase.”
Lewis says a virtual check-in is an expression of loyalty and there is some value in that, but in order for the industry to move en masse toward offering LBS rewards, clear and measurable ROI is a must.
For consumers, rewards aren’t just limited to points. Some perks include free rounds of drinks, spa passes, complimentary stay credits, 25% off premier rooms at top-flight hotels, and so on. The Topguest application notifies users in real-time whenever they receive a Topguest reward, as well as provide an easy way for one to manage, track and redeem rewards on mobile device.
“At Topguest, we think we’re at the forefront of how geolocation can actually drive meaningful incremental revenue for hotels, by way of lead generation for loyalty programmes, targeted real-time F&B offers, and more,” said Lewis.
Considering the number of initiatives in this arena, it is imperative to assess to what extent has Toguest succeeded in working on a set of services for the travel industry that have enabled hotels and airlines to become location-smart and improve the way they communicate with their customers.
“We have only just begun. The company was only recently founded in June 2010, and we just exited limited beta in mid-November. That said, we are excited to be working with many of the leading players in both the hotel and airline industries; including IHG, Choice, Hilton, Wyndham, Virgin America, etc. But again, Topguest 1.0 is just the beginning: Our product is going to be evolving in very significant ways over the coming months,” shared Lewis.
Any user can become a Topguest member in one click, for free, by downloading the iPhone or Android application. To unlock bonus points and perks, one needs to check-in at any Topguest Partner location with Facebook Places, Foursquare or other major apps (Gowalla and Twitter); the participating partners nearest to the user are always viewable on the “Top Spots” tab. Top Spots are places that give Topguests points or perks for check-ins, automatically. There are over 10,000 Top Spots around the world.
So how strong is the tendency to being rewarded for virtual check-in via a mobile application or mobile web interface of Topguest?
“Users find that Topguest makes it extremely easy to receive these travel perks for their virtual loyalty. it's not another application that they have to actively use. While one can still become a member online, we've recently launched iPhone and Android applications that provide you with a map of all the Top Spots offering rewards in your area, the ability to easily keep track of your rewards earned via Topguest, and notification of when you've received a reward delivered in real-time via push notification,” said Lewis.
On what differentiates Topguest, Lewis said, “We allow partners to link their existing CRM system seamlessly to Facebook, and the major LBS services Foursquare and Gowalla. This allows geolocation and social data to be tied to an existing guest profile and utilised to strengthen loyalty over time, as opposed to the one off deals offered by the check-in services themselves. It’s one touch and easy for both the partners and the user.”
The company is building an engaged user base of high income business travellers.
“Our focus right now is on creating differentiated value for both this user base, and our hotel and airline partners; as opposed to short term monetisation for ourselves,” Lewis said.
Generally, there are two aspects to loyalty programmes – recognition and rewards.
Commenting on what should hotels consider when it comes to effectively recognising and rewarding its customers according to their preferences, and ultimately keep their loyalty while reaching them out via real-time location-enabled web, Lewis pointed out that rewards are 'price of entry', recognition is how you can truly differentiate.
“Topguest has to date been focused on creating a standard 'Rewards' layer for the travel industry on the geo-social web. We will soon be moving into 'Recognition' helping partners recognise their digital influencers in new and profitable ways,” concluded Lewis.
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