Members-only hotel website Jetsetter is branching out from the merchant model and into retail hotel sales.
The company, founded by former Kayaker Drew Patterson, began a beta launch of retail hotel sales today for a subset of users as a prelude to a full consumer launch in January.
Jetsetter is believed to be the first among private-sales sites with travel offerings -- including Voyageprivé,LivingSocial and RueLaLa.com, for example -- to expand into retail hotel sales.
Patterson scoffs at the notion that expansion into retail sales signifies that private sales based on the merchant model have been insufficient.
Patterson says flash sales -- hotel sales of limited duration using the merchant model -- will remain Jetsetter's core product, but at launch of the retail product the website also will offer 150 vacation options on a retail basis to give consumers wider choice and to expand the members-only site's revenue streams.
On the beta site homepage, private sales are displayed on the left and a search box for retail sales, labeled Plan a Vacation, is located on the right.
The following is an example of Jetsetter's retail hotel results for a New York City search:
Notice that the Eventi New York City shows up in Jetsetter's retail display above for an average rate of $429 per night. The property also was being touted in a private sale elsewhere on Jetsetter for $215 per night if you booked it over the next two days.
The idea is to give consumers wider choice if their dates were unavailable in a private sale or if they wanted to stay at a different property.
Jetsetter's retail offering is not designed to be comprehensive and the company, funded by and cross-marketing with Gilt Group, does not see itself competing head-to-head with online travel agencies.
However, JetSetter was quick to state that its retail rates beat published rates on OTA sites 31% to 38% of the time.
So, perhaps there is a bit of a competitive dynamic going on.
Jetsetter members can search the retail offering by destination, hotel name or category, including romantic, family and adventure.
Confirmations of the retail bookings are not instantaneous. Jetsetter says it "confirms the booking with the travel partner and provides customer service pre and posts bookings."
In fact, Jetsetter has increased its customer service team to around seven people in its New York office and they assist customers via phone, email, Facebook and Twitter.
Jetsetter claims its curation of vacation offerings sets it apart.
"Each travel partner featured in the collection is Jetsetter-Verified, meaning a Jetsetter correspondent has visited and experienced the property, and provided a first-person review including recommendations for the best time to travel, where to eat, what to do and how to get there," the company states. "Unlike other travel sites which rely on the supplier’s marketing text, the Jetsetter review highlights factors that might not appeal to everyone such as the absence of a pool or abundance of steps leading to the rooms. As a result, Jetsetter members trust the site’s honest, authoritative review and know if a vacation experience is featured on Jetsetter, it’s something special."
The retail offerings, like the flash sales of hotels, are offered only to members and not to the wider public, Jetsetter says.
The company says its retail vacations are "curated," meaning a correspondent has visited and reviewed the property and hotels partners must maintain a member-satisfaction rating of at least 85% in surveys after their stays.
Launched in September 2009, Jetsetter says it has more than 1 million members and has sold more than 100,000 room nights in 65 countries through its flash sales.
Brands participating in Jetsetter's retail initiative include, Affinia Hotels, Banyan Tree, Capella Hotel Group, Fairmont, Kimpton Hotels, Standard Hotels and individual properties such as The Chambers New York, Hard Rock San Diego, Ojai Village Inn and Spa and The Palms Place Las Vegas.