New Jetsetter Boss Doubles Down on Content, Launching New Profile Pages in August

By Sarah Lacy , written on July 23, 2012

From The News Desk

When Drew Patterson was fired from Jetsetter, I worried the company's focus on top-notch editorial would go too. I am a well-documented Jetsetter fan, because of its curatorial eye and glossy-magazine quality photos, well argued reviews, and spot-on recommendations. As I've written before, it's the antidote to a world.

But let's face it -- content is expensive. And it's been well-reported that Jetsetter's parent-company Gilt is looking to cut costs with a hope of going public -- although post-Facebook that dream may be indefinitely deferred. We'd speculated before that they might even spin off some divisions.

But apparently, Jetsetter is doing the exact opposite under acting general manager Rob Deeming -- it's wisely investing more heavily on editorial content as a differentiator. On Sunday, the site launched its first iPad destination guide, a guide to six of London's emerging hip neighborhoods, just in time for the Olympics.

And in August, Jetsetter will be revamping its product details page. The new pages will be less dominated by a long write up of the writer's stay in a specific hotel, containing more general information about what to do during a given user's stay. The goal is to push the content further away from merely describing given property, and more towards generally inspiring people to travel.

"Historically, we've had two types of content: Reviews about properties and more broad, inspirational travel writing," Deeming says. "The focus has very much been on the first, but it's a good time to take a step back and readdress that. We want to spend more time inspiring people to take trips."

That may give the content a fuzzier ROI, since it's not linked to a specific room Jetsetter is trying to push. But the general place content can be reused, and meanwhile, Jetsetter is cutting costs on the profile pages by making the reviews more succinct and list-oriented. Deeming says that should make adding a new hotel about 30 percent more efficient. That should help as Jetsetter seeks to double the 900 hotels it has on the site now over the course of the next year.

Deeming says that, while the company did recruit Kate Maxwell from Conde Nast Traveler to be Jetsetters's new Editor-in-chief, it will still leverage a network of freelancers. Deeming doesn't ever expect to monetize like a content site -- no heavy ads, no events, no subscription services. But it is experimenting with different ways to make money.

Last year, Jetsetter deviated from its flash sales model and started to offer regular full price hotel sales of all of the companies in its network. This was sort of an experiment, particularly because it was something that users had been asking for, but Jetsetter wasn't sure would do well. After all, in most cases people can book those same hotels elsewhere. But it's rapidly become nearly 40 percent of Jetsetter's business, without much of a marketing push at all. That should increase as Jetsetter doubles its hotel inventory in the next year, Deeming says.

To Deeming, this surprise boost of non-sale sales is proof of how important content is to Jetsetter, whether it's pricey to develop not. "It shows you people really value our curation," he says. "They may want to go to Paris, and they want to see what our perspective is. Out of the 450 hotels, they want to know the 10 we think they should care about. We will live and die by the quality of our content."

Separately, the company has been experimenting with "mystery sales," so-called because  you book a hotel without seeing the name brand. That allows the company to offer steep discounts. Users still know the hotels are Jetsetter-level, so there's less anxiety than with a Priceline or Hotwire. Deeming couldn't say which hotels they'd offered -- the whole reason for the discount is that it's not publicly listed, so regular customers don't demand the same. But I found some references in the forums to Four Seasons, Ritz Carltons, and the Conrad Hotel in Tokyo. Deeming says the discounts can be as high as 70 percent off. Not surprisingly, that's a popular feature.

The company is also experimenting with offering flights and cruises but specifies that the flights are typically bundled in with packages and experiences. The cruises are less hokey-pokey on the Leto Deck and more the Jetsetter mix of hip, gourmet, and adventurous. (And likely, expensive.) "There is no Carnival on Jetsetter," says spokesperson Kellie Pelletier.

As for Deeming, he's still the acting general manager, but he emphasized he was enjoying the role, and is not planning on going anywhere.

[Image Courtesy CameraKerrie]