While some erroneously looked to Expedia to take tours and activities mainstream, Groupon, if it survives, is making the first move.
Six months after Groupon separately acquired Blink, the Madrid-based same-day hotel booking app that competes with HotelTonight, and New York-based tours and activities provider SideTour, the Blink brand is dying, and SideTours’ tours and activities are growing.
A couple of senior managers of the small Blink team relocated to Groupon offices in Seattle, and they are working on what appears to be the imminent integration of tonight-only hotel deals into the Groupon app.
The Blink brand itself appears to be in a downward death spiral.
The Europe-only Blink app has become Blink by Groupon, and don’t look for much expansion there under the Blink by Groupon brand. It is highly unlikely that Blink by Groupon will ever offer hotels in North America, and it is possible that once the Groupon app gets tonight-only hotels then the Blink by Groupon app may get shuttered.
“They were too small to scale,” says Groupon spokesperson Paul Taaffe, referring to Blink.
When asked whether Groupon should have acquired HotelTonight instead of building its own tonight-only hotel app with Blink help, Taaffe said HotelTonight would have been expensive.
“Why, when you can do it yourself?” Taaffe said. “Probably for less than $10 million we can do the same thing.”
Taaffe pointed out that HotelTonight has one advantage in that it is solely focused on hotels.
But when you consider Groupon’s large audience, “I like our chances,” Taaffe said. “The aggregators will always win, provided we don’t mess it up.”
HotelTonight CEO Sam Shank replied: “As the company that invented the category of mobile last minute hotel booking, we continue to innovate to make the experience easier, more fun and more useful to more people.”
The SideTour Experience
Meanwhile, virtually the entire SideTour team pre-acquisition is now working out of a Groupon office in New York City.
While at acquisition SideTour offered tours and activities in just four cities — New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. — today it has expanded to Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, Atlanta and San Diego.
The SideTour website is still operating, users can find some of its tours and activities in the Groupon app, and these same tours and activities can be be found under Local Services on Groupon.com, interspersed with Groupon’s limited-time and discounted flash sales.
Taaffe says SideTour’s business, which was small, is up “three times” since the acquisition, and he argues that its tours and activities are a natural fit because customers look to Groupon for for both deals experiences.
“People are already going to Groupon for experiences so it is not hard to add on incremental experiences,” Taaffee said.
The SideTour experiences, though, can be hard to find on the Groupon site unless you know what you are looking for.
Under Local Services in Seattle, the first SideTour offering I saw today on Groupon.com was for a birth chart interpretation ($54 per person) — and it was the 61st listing, shown on the second page, among the first 140 deals available.
Still, given the size of Groupon’s audience, and the fact that Groupon is making its mobile apps more searchable, with the goal of increasing in-app booking capabilities, SideTour/Groupon’s tours and activities have the chance to reach a much wider customer base than when SideTour was on its own.
In other news, there are some more details available about the end of the Groupon and Expedia co-branding relationship for Groupon Getaways.
Groupon built its own Getaways sales team during the time it had the co-branding relationship with Expedia, and now it is “quite a big one,” according to Taaffe, so Groupon is no longer sourcing flash-sale hotel deals from Expedia.
However, in markets where there only a few flash sales or none, Expedia supplies Groupon with hotels labeled as Market Rate to fill out Groupon’s hotel inventory for consumers. These essentially are published price hotel deals, where Groupon makes a tiny margin.
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Photo Credit: SideTour's tours and activities have been integrated into Groupon.com and Groupon apps. placeit by Breezi
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