Abruptly, and with no public notice, online retail giant Amazon.com has shut down its hotel booking site, Amazon Destinations and has also stopped selling reservations via its Amazon Local app. While the move came as a surprise to the journals that first reported the shutdown two weeks ago, it does not seem to have surprised to Mel Tye, the Merrimack, New Hampshire tour operator—his Tye’s Top Tour and Travel sells both domestically and internationally—who was one of a small group of operators who worked with Amazon to get the project under way.
The website was launched last spring, offering hotel rooms in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York. Within four months, it had spread to 35 cities. There was no statement from the company on what caused the sudden closure of the site, except for a company spokesperson’s brief response to one tech journal’s query: “We have learned a lot and have decided to discontinue Amazon Destinations.”
In discussing the matter with the Inbound Report, Tye was a little more expansive than was Amazon. “We sold two tours on Amazon, one to the induction ceremony at the Baseball Hall of Fame and one to a Red Sox–Mets game,” he told us, adding, “the approval process was very cumbersome and took an average of six weeks to get approval on package. (Even so, he sold $5,000 in packages within two weeks.) The test window was small. After we ran these programs, Amazon advised us they were pulling the plug on this project as the expected targeted revenue from the five tour operators selected for this project was not reached.”
It seems as if the Amazon team was unfamiliar with some of the collaborative practices—practices considered de rigueur in the tour and travel industry—that wholesaler, retailer and supplier share in selling a product to the travel consumer. For instance, Tye explained, Amazon was unwilling to provide him with contact information for travelers, and his staff had to wait for customers to contact his company once a travel voucher was purchased, or reach out to the Amazon sales team to get the customer to contact his office. So, recounted Tye, “We informed Amazon that with travel unless we were able to contact the customers and complete the information necessary to make travel arrangements the program would not work.”
Amazon’s reaction? “They advised us that they were pulling the plug on selling tours,” said Tye, “and would attempt to sell hotel vouchers and attraction vouchers only that did not require customer contact information. These travel vouchers could be used by any person holding the voucher.”
Could Amazon have done something differently to move the project along, we wondered. Said Tye: “We were learning as we went along, and doing two local tours was not a realistic test of selling tours on Amazon. In my opinion Amazon did not give significant time to develop a model to sell travel as a product.”
The collapse of the project might have something to do, as well, with the fact that the commissions that Amazon wanted to achieve with each of the participating operators (usually, at least 30 percent, it was reported), made the packages too expensive. Whatever the real reason or reasons for the shutdown of the Amazon travel site, no one we talked to thought that it would reappear any time soon.