News | Distribution | OnlineNo, Amazon isn't launching a travel site, but it did this insteadThis article was originally published onBy Sean O'Neil | April 21, 2015 No, Amazon is not creating a travel brand to compete with the Expedias of this world, a spokesperson has said.But today its sub-brand Amazon Local has added some modest improvements to how it markets, on any given day, around 300 hotels in the US and about 150 in the UK.It has added a Destinations tab (via the new amazon.com/destinations) to the top of selected Amazon Local pages for Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle.The landing page gives a much bolder treatment of travel than Amazon Local has before, with fly-out windows and larger imagery.If you click on “See All Destinations” under the “Hit the road: Book Local Getaways” you can see the new Destination tab. As of today, only users in Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle will have the page be promoted to them, though anyone can access it.The Destination tab has a search box in which you can type in deals for anywhere in Amazon Local's inventory. That's a first for Amazon Local, which has until now relied on variations of short edited galleries, carousels, and a map-based interface for posting options.Amazon Local tweaksAmazon Local also continues to show categories for a broad array of travel services besides hotels: "overnight tours," "guest houses," "cruises," and "airport shuttles."Cruise inventory is severely limited: Users in Florida, the cruise capital of the US, see only three cruises, and they're coastal small ship cruises -- not megaliner ships run by major ocean lines.Inventory for the other categories is also small. None of this content appears on the Destination pages.Sparse inventoryThe hotels and resorts you see depends on your location. Residents of a few coastal cities, such as LA, New York City, and Seattle, have the most inventory within a day's drive.In Chicago, an Amazon Local user recently saw two-dozen hotel choices in the map-view. Not all of these were within a day's drive: one was in Hawaii and another was in Vero Beach, Florida.By clicking a button at the bottom, the user could expand to full results, which (at publication time) meant 58 properties in North America. That number isn't as big as Booking.com's 626,717, of course.A user in Atlanta sees a couple dozen hotels by default in map-view, with 146 being the full view of properties nationwide.There isn't full overlap city by city. A Chicago user sees promotions for lodgings in Michigan and Minnesota that aren't visible on the Atlanta user's national map.Modest effortIn late 2014, Skift had a story headlined “Amazon to get into hotel booking with the launch of a travel site.”Well, Amazon Local had already been doing hotel booking for a few years. After the story came out, Amazon said it is not launching a travel site.At the time Tnooz headlined a story "Not just the US – Amazon probably looking to scale up hotel inventory overseas."That has only turned out to be partly true. Today British residents can now find similar types of deals and a similar user interface for hotels and resorts across the United Kingdom on Amazon.co.uk Local. (US site visitors don't see the UK listings, and vice versa. There's no Destinations tab yet.)Today also shows the first European property outside of the UK: a three-night trip to Bruges. That said, the only European country with an Amazon Local (and thus, with travel deals) is the UK. No international rollout is happening until other Locals spread.It was reported that there would be the “launch of a new travel-shopping experience on Amazon.com that would enable hoteliers to list their property at published rates and not just sporadically at rock-bottom discounts.”There's something to that: Some hotels are now listing at retail rates (meaning, the prices you'd find elsewhere online) instead of via deep sales worthy of flash sales.Exhibit A is an offer for £90 a night at The Angel at Burford in Oxfordshire, England, including breakfast.A look at the property's own site turns up standard rates between £85 to £100 with breakfast, varying by date. No true savings.By mixing retail with discounted inventory, Amazon Local seems to be signaling that it hasn't been investing in the resources to compete with Groupon Getaways, which emphasizes flash deals.By adding retail, Amazon can help bolster its geographic coverage without a heavy demand on its account managers, it seems.No travel siteAmazon public relations manager Tom Cook spoke this winter with a reporter from MenJournal.com, saying: “We are not launching a competitor travel site. Amazon is simply continuing to build its existing travel services — which started back in 2012. We’re continuing to reach out to more hotels to provide the best deals and services.”Share this quote When Tnooz caught up with Cook, he declined to give details.It was said that the typical commission, or “marketing fee”, would be 15%. But it was unclear if the 15% fee and payment structure, if reported correctly, are any different to what has been standard at Amazon Local for years.Cook told Tnooz: "We aren’t in a position to discuss specific agreements with participating hotels. However, we are confident Amazon Destinations will help properties in great getaway locations gain broad exposure in a cost-effective way."Share this quote In brief, Amazon’s foray into travel is run by its Local division, which is a 200-person operation that offers a variety of time-sensitive product deals on everything from grills to spa treatments.For about two years now, the trail of job postings reveals that Amazon Local has been hiring some professionals from the travel trade who know how to sell and market hotels. That hiring has continued, in a slow trickle.Amazon’s interest in hotels appears to be focused on the weekend getaway market. In a prepared statement, the company said: "We created Amazon Destinations to solve a problem most travelers face: how to easily plan and book a local getaway trip. Interestingly, more than 40% of all US domestic leisure trips are short-term getaways of 1-3 nights, and many of these trips are to nearby, drivable destinations. However, travelers often have a hard time planning local getaways."Share this quote Amazon seems to be trying to answer, in a highly "curated" way, this question from its customers: “Where can I go for a quick getaway without needing a flight?”Except, that is, for most of the major cities in the US, where there's so little inventory.Case in point: At the time of publication, an Amazon Local customer looking at the Chicago Hotels tab sees just a handful of hotels within a day’s drive of her home.In short, Amazon is not building a competitor service to the online agencies run by Expedia Inc and Priceline Group.This truth will be hard for some people in the industry to accept, because they fervently wish that the retailer does enter the game because they think it would increase competition by charging lower commissions that Expedia Inc and Priceline Group and by offering personalized product presentation.As nice as such dreams may be, though, they are a far cry from what Amazon has debuted today.