Business

Flash sales provide boost in travel industry

MIAMI — As the general manager of the new Hotel Breakwater on Miami's crowded South Beach, Axel Gasser is eager to drive traffic to his 100-room property. But factor in the threat of Hurricane Irene to South Florida — and its impact on some key tourism markets — and Gasser's eagerness turned to nervousness.

He and his staff found a solution in the latest travel fad: flash sales — short-term sales lasting from a few hours to a couple of weeks that help hoteliers and airlines fill unbooked space at deeply discounted rates.

"We have to give a higher discount than we like to do, but the exposure is just absolutely tremendous," said Gasser, who said the hotel picked up more than 500 room nights from a quick sale on a few Web sites last week before the Labor Day holiday.

Research shows that those who are traveling are motivated by deals: 20 percent of leisure travelers bought some kind of travel service as a result of a "flash sale" or time-sensitive offer received by email, according to the Ypartnership/Harrison Group 2011 Portrait of American Travelers. Fewer booked through private-sale sites such as SniqueAway (7 percent) or a collective buying site such as LivingSocial Escapes (8 percent), the survey showed.

And more than 80 percent of leisure travelers who use the Internet for trip-planning purposes said low-price guarantees or the ability to check for the lowest prices are the most desirable features about travel sites.

Sites offering short-term "flash" sales for clothes, shoes or home accessories have been around for the past few years, but several new options offering travel-focused deals have entered the market in just the past several months.

HauteLook, for example, started more than three years ago as a women's fashion sale site and added travel last November after asking members what other products they'd like to see on the site. Other flash-sale sites include Jetsetter, Off & Away and Vacationist. "Everybody — and it doesn't matter what financial bracket you're falling in — everybody nowadays looks for a bargain," said Heiko Dobrikow, general manager of the Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The hotel was recently featured on Groupon Getaways with Expedia, a joining of two megaforces in daily deals and travel that launched in July.

"It's really about kind of taking advantage of an evolving new segment of travel that's extended from the daily deal business that has proven to be quite successful," said Charlie Severn, Expedia.com's director of marketing for new channels.

The idea, Dobrikow said, is to attract business during a slow time and lure new loyalists. "You try to dazzle the customers with your service, with your location so they will become repeat customers," he said.

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