Pioneering A New Category In The Online Travel Space

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Jetsetter, a private online community that provides members with insider access, expert knowledge, and exclusive deals, continues to make rapid strides.

Cracking the code on inspiration is a big focus for Jetsetter. Inspiring members is the crux of this business and the company says it will continue to innovate new technology—from sort order of its emails to search functionality on the site—which will help members discover vacations most relevant to their tastes and sensibilities.

Jetsetter, which has sold over 176,000 room nights since its launch in September 2009, has charted plans for aggressive growth.

“Jetsetter’s business model evolved beyond flash sales with the January launch of Jetsetter 24/7, our collection of hand-selected, verified vacations available 365 days per year at rate parity,” Heather Leisman, VP Partner Development, Jetsetter told EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta in an interview.

“In May, Jetsetter will launch our Expert Travel Planning business which provides members the opportunity to consult with one of our travel correspondents, who are some of the world’s most experienced travel writers. No other travel site offers such diverse products and services,” shared Leisman, who is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Online Marketing Strategies for Travel 2011 Conference, to be held in Miami (June 7-8).

“We actually see ourselves pioneering a new category in the online travel space. One that returns to the expertise and high touch customer service of offline agencies, coupled with the ease of booking and pricing transparency of a travel site,” said Leisman.

Leisman spoke about the venture in detail. Excerpts:

Considering the myriad of options available for planning and booking, what do you think is the major challenge which travel suppliers and intermediaries are facing today? And in this context, which areas are you trying to address through your venture and how?

There are dozens of travel sites that do a great job helping people get from point A to point B. But, before Jetsetter there was not one travel site that helped people decide WHERE to go on vacation and help them book the trip.

Jetsetter was inspired by the editorial and photos of a glossy travel magazine.

We wanted to bring that type of storytelling to e-commerce.

  1. Inspire people to travel.
  2. Introduce them to new destinations.
  3. Provide a fast and efficient booking engine.

In November last year, Founder and CEO Drew Patterson acknowledged that there was skepticism as to whether Jetsetter members would purchase travel in a flash sale in the “early days”, but the company said several factors have resulted in such performance. Could you elaborate on how is the concept continuing to gain acceptance and what according to you are still the major challenges in improving the perception about the same?

Since launching in September 2009, Jetsetter has sold over 176,000 room nights. We’ve featured more than 800 partners in over 70 countries from well known luxury brands such as Peninsula, Windstar Cruises, Rocco Forte, Kempinski, Banyan Tree, Relais & Chateaux and Coppola Resorts; Iconic hotels such as Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Hôtel de Crillon, Bauer Venice, The Broadmoor and The Greenbrier; and Hip Boutiques such as Ace Hotels, Standard Hotels, Morgans Hotel Group and The James.

Jetsetter members are true Jetsetters. Their demand for experiential trips—from Masai Warrior training to hiking Kilimanjaro –continue to outperform projections from our partners and even our team. Partners representing complicated itineraries or high ticket items often tell us they are using Jetsetter as a marketing vehicle. The value for them is to introduce their product to our 2 million members, but they are often blown away by the volume of bookings that we generate as well.

More than 75 percent of Jetsetter members take three to five trips per year. Seventy-three percent of Jetsetter members are under 41. Can you explain the preferences in terms of travel planning and also buying behaviour of your core audience?

Unlike traditional OTAs, members come to Jetsetter to be inspired, typically with no specific destination in mind. In fact, 84 percent of purchasing members indicate that they were not planning to book that hotel prior to visiting Jetsetter.

Our average advance purchase for hotel properties is over 60 days, which is exponentially longer than other OTAs. Jetsetter is an effective way for partners to build a base on their books well in advance.

Can you explain how typically you go about offering deals/ exclusive offerings to your subscribers? How do you make it enticing for them to avail the same?

Jetsetter features 15-30 vacations each week, on sale at prices up to 50% off in the flash section of our website. In January of this year, we launched Jetsetter 24/7, a collection of more than 400 hand-selected, verified vacations available 365 days at Jetsetter exclusive pricing.

The majority of our bookings in flash come shortly after the sale launches at 3pm. Members opt in to receive either weekly or daily emails. Like a travel magazine, Jetsetter’s emails tell a story about the destination and illustrate that story with beautiful photography. For example, earlier this year we launched “As Seen on the Bachelor” – a collection of our partner properties, such as Peninsula New York and Cap Maison in St Lucia, that had been featured on the show. In March we launched “Vacation Like Royalty” which included a selection of partners, such as Hotel de Crillon in Paris and Relais Royal in Mirepoix, where William and Kate have stayed throughout their courtship.

Because we only feature a limited number of partners every week, we also want to be sure that our offers are diverse. Our team of editors is tasked with assembling an assortment of properties to ensure that every week, we are representing a variety of destinations, property types (i.e. boutique, resort), property style (i.e. hip & trendy, classic luxury) and experience types (i.e. hotel, cruise, tour, weekend getaway).

Could you cite few examples from your experience of working with hotel partners and how have they benefited from such offering?

Jetsetter works with a great breadth and range of partners to meet a variety of goals. Take the “classic luxury” partner who is concerned that the average age of its customer is aging and views Jetsetter as a way to reach a new generation of customers. Many of our luxury brand partners have reported that over 90 percent of Jetsetter bookings are first time guests. For the “small independent boutique” partner, who has an incredible product but limited marketing funds, Jetsetter is an ideal way to reach a highly-targeted audience with no up-front marketing cost.

Mark Shrives, director of e-commerce for Lebua Hotels & Resorts, first used Jetsetter to increase awareness for his hotels in Thailand after political unrest hurt tourism throughout the region but he was pleasantly surprised to also sell a large quantity of rooms.

Lastly, the “bucket list” partner can market their vacation to an audience that dreams of these types of trips but has no idea how to plan one. We receive a lot of feedback from members who thanked us for hand-selecting safari companies and providing a seamless booking experience.

Could you list few do’s and don’ts for any hotel company that it is planning to work with private travel sites and group buying sites?

Be choosy: Do your homework before you sign on. The flash sale and group buying space has gotten quite crowded lately, but there is a great range in what each offers. We encourage partners to research the ones they are interested in, pick the one or two that they want to work with and decline the rest.
Limit sales per year: The goal of Jetsetter is to drive incremental bookings for our partners by inspiring our members to travel to a place that they had not considered. We recognise that the power of private sales is the element of surprise and in ensuring that a consumer cannot “plan” to book via a private sale. When a partner is featured on a private sale site too frequently, the end effect is that consumers will wait for that sale, thereby cannibalising full price business. We typically recommend a sale on Jetsetter 2-4 times per year, depending on the partner.
Discount in members-only environment first: Jetsetter can help hotels protect their price integrity if you discount with us up front. We’ll drive a lot of bookings quickly, behind a firewall, then you wont’ have to discount as much or at all in the public marketplace

What’s your plan for the mobile channel? What’s on Jetsetter’s agenda for this year?

Jetsetter is extremely focused on mobile and we are in the process of tripling the size of our mobile team. As we continue to think about ways to inspire our members, adapting Jetsetter for new platforms is an obvious next step. Since our site is so photo driven, it’s important that we optimise the site for each platform. Jetsetter launched our first iPhone app in February. It’s already the #4 most popular travel app in iTunes and the folks from Apple tell us it’s the best mobile app since Kayak. Look for Blackberry and Android versions later this year. We are also creating something really special for the iPad but we’re keeping this one in stealth mode for a few more months.

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