A new TripAdvisor subsidiary stealthily is working to launch a new private sale offering of four- and five-star hotels.
The new Expedia Inc. operating company, working under the project name RICO because details weren't public, would be part of Smarter Travel Media [including BookingBuddy, SmarterTravel, SeatGuru, Airfarewatchdog and FrequentFlier.com], which in turn is part of the TripAdvisor Media Network.
Plans may be subject to change and there are a lot of lingering questions about the under-the-radar initiative since nothing has been officially announced about project RICO, which likely won't be the ultimate name of the company.
But SmarterTravel Media is outlining the following details to prospective hotel partners.
The new website, slated for a soft launch in late August or early September, would offer four- and five-star hotels only and give them the ability to offer their properties exclusively -- at least by region -- for up to seven days to qualfied members.
Initial plans call for RICO to target high-income individuals, particularly affluent women 35-55 years old.
The target RICO consumer-member, who supposedly can join by invitation-only, is a "selective, brand-conscious shopper who loves to brag about the rare find she's scored" and is "always aware of the trends but doesn't necessarily follow them," according to sales materials.
Hotels signing up for this Smarter Travel Media private sale offering would offer net rates, have no up-front costs and do not need to sign long-term contracts.
As is standard with the merchant model, consumer hotel bookings would be nonrefundable.
The hotel can control the room type and blackout dates, and reservations are handled via Excel spreadsheets, with no extranets or rate codes required.
Karen Kirsten, a spokeswoman for Smarter Travel Media, wouldn't discuss project RICO or confirm its existence, saying the company never discusses new products before they are launched.
"As a leader in travel deals business, deals are our sweet spot and we will continue to evolve and grow our products," Kirsten says.
Smarter Travel Media's entry into private sales coincides with the travel industry's new flirtation with this trend, as evidenced by the relatively recent launches of JetSetter, Kayak Private Sale, RueLaLa.com, Vacationist and Tablet Private Sale, to name just a few companies in the segment.
RICO would be a departure for Smarter Travel Media, which until now focused exclusively on the advertising and media business and not merchant-model hotel transactions.
It's unclear whether RICO would handle the transactions itself or outsource them to a third-party company, as Kayak did with its private sale effort.
It also remains to be seen why Expedia Inc. decided to add a new operating company for the RICO effort instead of having Expedia.com, SmarterTravel or another existing subsidiary merely introduce a new private sale product to its portfolio.
There are a number of theories on the new subsidiary angle, ranging from speculation about the possibility of TripAdvisor having acquired an as-yet undisclosed company to kick-start project RICO to the advantages of focus that a separate operating unit would bring.
So, what do competitors think of the fact that TripAdvisor President and CEO Stephen Kaufer now would have a private-sale transaction site to round out TripAdvisor's advertising and metasearch businesses?
Says one competitor: "It's great to see validation of the category. Everyone likes this space."