By Barbara De Lollis, USA TODAY
SILVER SPRING, MD. – Yesterday, I sat down with LivingSocial exec Doug Miller over lunch at 8407 Kitchen to talk about his new job running Living Social Escapes.
LivingSocial Escapes – the company’s travel division – went live 18 weeks ago, offering one- and two-night travel “experiences.”
These perk-filled hotel offers are good for one week, when a new batch comes out.
One example of a current deal for Washington D.C. area members:
One night in the Smoky Mountains at the Foxtrot Bed and Breakfast in Gaitlinburg, Tenn. Buyers get a deluxe king room for $179 – 50% off standard room rate. The package also includes Wi-Fi, hiking guides, hiking canes and gourmet lunch for two.
First, some background: As many of you know, LivingSocial is a fast growing coupon site that now has 26 million members. It’s growing so fast that it’s hiring six people per day, and now has 1,300 employees.
LivingSocial and rival Groupon seemed to come out of nowhere in the last year or so, offering “daily deals” via email for local restaurants, bars, cupcake shops, classes and more.
Personally, I’ve noticed my friends buy them to experience new restaurants or get a deal on zip-lining for our kids. Even my husband has purchased these coupon deals for himself (a LivingSocial deal to custom frame a jazz print) and me (a Groupon spa experience as a reward for throwing our kids’ school fair).
Hotels are the newest space that LivingSocial’s going after, and consumers can benefit. The company hired Miller away from online travel giant Expedia, which gives you a hint as to its growth ambitions.
How do Living Social Escapes work?
Consumers don’t always have an easy time finding a “near-cation” options, he told me, because the travel industry’s not set up to market well to locals. That’s the void that LivingSocial hopes to fill, he said.
The company sends members a weekly email that touts several hotel deals. The deals are available for purchase only for seven days, and the time frame for use varies but generally lasts one year.
Once you make your purchase, it’s up to you to call and set up your trip, which gives the hotel a chance to try to sell you on an extra night or two since many people like to escape for more than one night, Miller said.
To promote sharing, LivingSocial Escapes promises you a free escape if you share a deal with friends and three of them buy it.
What kind of hotel deals can you expect?
You’ll typically find a few hotels within driving distance to your city, as well as a few choices that would require airline tickets (not included). If you lose the paperwork, you needn’t worry about it; your purchase info is stored online so you can call it up at anytime on your smartphone.
Instead of the 40,000 or 50,000 hotels that Expedia worked with, Miller said LivingSocial works with a small number of hotels in certain markets with a local sales staff.
Their goal is to help each hotel accomplish what they’re after – whether that’s luring new customers that they can then hope to convert into loyal guests with value-added packages, or simply filling beds during a slow period with 50% discounts.
“It’s not just about room rate,” he said. “It’s kind of flashing back to that romantic and emotional side of buying travel. We’re telling stories about properties and destinations, and bringing it out through a flash-sale experience.”