Google has introduced a beta of Google Offers and Groupon teamed with Expedia and is poised for an IPO, but in the face of this flash-sales frenzy, Travelzoo believes its own approach will be "very difficult to replicate."
That's the view of Chris Loughlin, the Travelzoo CEO, when asked to comment on how the Groupon-Expedia alliance and the Google Offers beta might impact Travelzoo's growing Local Deals business. Loughlin says:
Many companies offer travel deals. We continue to lead the market, as the original high-quality publisher of travel deals, since 1998. Our DNA is very difficult to replicate. We know that because we replicated ourselves in 10 markets outside the U.S. and other companies were not able to copy us successfully.
Loughlin's confidence comes despite new, emerging competition.
Google has just entered the local deals space with Google Offers.
Recent offers in Portland, Ore., included $10 (half off) for pool at Uptown Billiards Club and $10 worth of drinks and pastries for $3 at Floyd's Coffee Shop.
And, Google says Google Offers is "coming soon" to Manhattan, and Oakland and San Francisco, Calif.
Consumers can subscribe to Google Offers emails, purchase deals at the Google Offers site and then they'll receive a confirmation email with a link to a voucher. Google says buyers can redeem the vouchers, "either printed or mobile," at the local business.
Mashable reports that Google Offers eventually will integrate with Google Wallet.
If Google successfully scales the business, it is possible that it will find a travel partner, just as Groupon has done with Expedia.
And, perhaps newly acquired ITA Software and its Needlebase solution can play a role.
But, Loughlin thinks Travelzoo, which is expanding Local Deals globally, has an advantage over online travel agencies getting into the local deals arena.
"We also continue to work with the industry on a direct basis and are not an OTA," Loughlin says. "We believe that through our independent newsroom approach, we can remain impartial and continue to gain the trust of our very large number of subscribers."
Travelzoo's "newsroom approach," which has producers, many of whom are former journalists, vetting Top 20 travel and entertainment, and Local Deals, appears to be more than your usual hype.
Conversations with several current and former Travelzoo employees indicate that the vetting of deals from advertisers is taken seriously. Said one: "Ralph [founder and director Ralph Bartel] is a former journalist and he'd rather leave money on the table" than publish a deal that doesn't pass muster.
And, some of Travelzoo's employment ads for producers list the following as a responsibility: "Partner with sales staff to nurture advertiser relationships, but never sell out."
It is hard to envision Google or Groupon hiring teams of former journalists to ensure its local offers are kosher.
Loughlin believes that Travelzoo offers its subscribers something that Google and Groupon may not be able to, and he draws a parallel with Tnooz. Loughlin says:
What keeps your readers coming back and why do you stand out? Because you have the most insightful content and over time you established credibility and trust. The same is true for us. We have 23 million real people who trust our brand and who have taken over 200 million trips and experiences that we have recommended to them. We don't just have 23 million email addresses.
It remains to be seen just what types of travel deals Groupon and Expedia will offer and if there will be a lot of overlap with those that Travelzoo's Local Deals touts.
Expedia says the deals will start with hotels, and eventually include vacation packages, cruise, airline tickets, car rentals, tours and destination activities.
Inevitably there will be some overlap with Travelzoo.
Some of its Local Deals seem mundane. For example, today Travelzoo was offering a Local Deal in Baltimore, Md., for $6 (half off) admission into the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum and the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards .
On the other hand, a four-course dinner for two with cocktails at Simon at Palms Place in Las Vegas, including two VIP nightclub passes for "Moon, Rain, ghostbar and the Playboy Club" for $99 (normally $291), had a bit more pop today.
So, it remains to be seen whether Travelzoo can maintain the individuality of its DNA in the context of big-name competition.
But, as in online travel or virtually any line of business, there usually is plenty of room for several players.