Skift Take

Jetsetter is desperately trying to imitate market competitors with its new "collections" branding of participating hotels. The site may still have an identity issue, though, as it balances its flash sales offerings while trying to simultaneously become a lifestyle brand.

Jetsetter and some of its partner hotels insist flash deals still have a place as online booking option, though their popularity dimmed as the recession waned.

Hotels don’t necessarily rely as frequently on limited-time flash deals to fill rooms in 2015 as overall global travel increases and room demand climbs. This has left TripAdvisor’s Jetsetter grappling with ways to remain relevant when many hotels don’t see flash sales as attractive options.

Jetsetter offers consumers hotels that are curated and reviewed by its editorial staff and several years ago branched out beyond flash sales into retail-price hotels.

Last month, the site introduced new “collections,” or categories, which change how hotels are grouped on the site and presented to users.

Jetsetter now somewhat ambiguously designates hotels as “Royal,” “Posh,” and “Brilliant,” as it seeks to enhance its connection with luxury travelers, but will these collections actually make any difference?

Is It Royal or Posh?

“I’m not so sure this naming structure is as intuitive as perhaps it may have been conceived,” says Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group. “The consumer won’t understand the difference between ‘Royal’ and ‘Posh.’ I don’t understand it.”

“Using words consumers might use, especially the luxury traveler, is Jetsetter’s focus,” Harteveldt says. “People don’t always tend to think in terms of the number of stars a hotel is rated with, they’re probably more likely to say they want a ‘posh’ hotel or something like that. I’m just not convinced that these are the best possible choices for names, and it’s very possible [Jetsetter] may choose to evolve these naming terms in the future.”

This also isn’t the first time a deals site attempted to evoke a lifestyle feel in as it tries to better speak the language of its target user demographic. Harteveldt compared Jetsetter’s recent move to that of HotelTonight, which uses terms such as “Hip” and “Luxe” to describe properties.

“I think what TripAdvisor is really trying to figure out is that they have a brand that has a strong following, so how can they be more value-focused rather than discount-focused?” Harteveldt says.

That Jetsetter, founded in 2009 and acquired by TripAdvisor from Gilt Groupe in 2013, is positioning itself deeper into the lifestyle game isn’t a surprise as it launched a new YouTube series last year spelling out just that.

“Jetsetter has a particular voice that resonates with its members and we like to have a little fun,” says David Krauter, president of TripAdvisor’s Smarter Travel Media and the general manager of Jetsetter. “By definition, Jetsetter is a lifestyle, but we also recognize that a Jetsetter lifestyle has a variety of individual interpretations.”

Crisis Mode?

The new collections designations are an attempt to refresh Jetsetter’s value proposition while keeping its original mission intact.

The company prides itself on its extensive editorial review process where it sends teams to all properties on the site. However, perhaps these reviews needed further definition in the face of big challenges.

“Jetsetter had to be fixed, and it was definitely an all-hands-on-deck situation over the last few months or longer,” says someone with knowledge of the matter. “Jetsetter has been getting the most tech attention within Smarter Travel Media in recent months as SmarterTravel tries to turn Jetsetter around.”

Krauter didn’t comment on this scenario.

A knowledgeable source, though, wasn’t surprised Jetsetter would seek to portray itself as a lifestyle brand as the flash sale market plummeted.

“For Jetsetter, its quality of deals have deteriorated over time, following the deterioration of flash deals in general,” says an insider who’s followed Jetsetter for a long time. “If only one room is available or only available on a Sunday night, how exciting is that? Even with HotelTonight, the kind of hotels offered have changed over time.”

One Hotelier’s View

Despite sources saying Jetsetter needed rescuing given the decline flash sales, Jetsetter itself and some hotels it works with counter that the site is still on the right path.

Since 2012, the company increased its “retail offering,” or non-flash deal inventory, by three-fold to 2,500 properties and had more flash sales per week in 2014 than the previous year, says Krauter, who added the site now has 23 million members.

Aspen Meadows Resort in Colorado, which has been a Jetsetter partner for three years, still views Jetsetter as a worthy companion to its business with other booking sites such as Expedia.

“We’re more successful with Jetsetter when we run flash deals with them during our peak winter season,” says Meg MacEachen, a spokesperson for the resort. “If we do have last-minute rooms it has helped us fill those. We have used them for flash deals in off seasons of spring and fall, but we don’t get big results with them like we do in winter.”

For hotels, the sticking point with Jetsetter is whether it brings in returning customers or only creates one-time guests interested in getting a good deal.

“Yes, sometimes we just filled a room at a discount and the customer never came back to us, but that may have been what we wanted,” MacEachen says. “We also have seen returning, loyal customers through our work with Jetsetter.”

MacEachen added Jetsetter comes nowhere close to Expedia, for example, in terms of the revenue it generates for the resort and that the collections seem “iffy and a little confusing.”

“I don’t think I see flash deals becoming more relevant for us in the coming years, but Jetsetter has been easy to use and has good results,” MacEachen says. “Do I love having to do flash sales? No. But when I find I need to fill up rooms last minute, I think they’re a good alternative.”

The other side of the equation for Jetsetter is how well is it serving travelers.

“It’s harder now for the affluent customer to decide where to go,” a source said. “Trust is a big thing still. The challenge of building a brand is to stay true to it and nurture it over time. Jetsetter needs to remain nimble and not just with curation.”

That’s indeed what the new Jetsetter is attempting to do.


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Tags: hotels, jetsetter, tripadvisor

Photo credit: A screenshot of Jetsetter's new collections. Jetsetter

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