Even in an improving economy, hoteliers in South Florida still see "flash sales'' that offer limited-run discounted room rates as a viable way to drum up business during slow periods.
Budget-minded consumers have come to expect them, and typically seek them out when considering a vacation, especially in August or September when some of the best deals can be found, industry specialists say.
Travelers often can find hotel flash sales on travel and deals websites such as Groupon, Living Social, GetARoom and BookIt, to name a few.
"Flash sales are very, very prevalent, and hotels are still using them for the offseason," said Noelani Burkholtz, BookIt.com's market manager for Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
While flash sales are mostly offered by moderate to 3-star hotels, more 4-star and above hotels are beginning to offer them as well, Burkholtz said. "Flash sales have become so mainstream and so normal that luxury-class hotels are now embracing them."
The flash sale deals offered on Bookit.com can represent discounts of 30 percent to as much as 60 percent off regular season hotel rates, Burkholtz noted.
Some hotels also use flash sales to get rooms sold in advance for busier periods in October, November and December.
In the last six months, the B Ocean Fort Lauderdale has participated in flash sale deals on Jetsetter, Travelzoo and Living Social, according to Stephen Donahue, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.
The Living Social offers for two-night stays were aimed at boosting occupancy during the hotel's slower months (July through September), and promoting its relatively new brand, Donahue noted.
The offer "produced," Donahue said, and "was worth the exposure to new guests for an emerging brand."
The 77-room Seabonay Beach Resort in Hillsboro Beach recently participated in its first flash sale or "Deal of the day" on Groupon Getaways, a vacation deals site powered by Expedia.
The apartment-style resort offered room rates starting from $75 per night double occupancy, discounted from $125 a night through Aug. 5, and more than 70 of the deals were bought.
"The overall reaction and feedback was amazing," said Dahlia Depaz, the resort's business developer. "The hotel saw an increase in reservations and new customers, and it gained a lot of local exposure."
Depaz said many locals didn't realize it is a resort because it's located adjacent to several condominiums in the affluent seaside community.
The first promotion was so well received that the hotel is in the midst of setting up another Groupon Getaways deal, Depaz said Thursday.
For example, the Marriott Boca hotel offered a one-night stay for up to five people, including welcome drink and Wi-Fi for $69 per room per night, which had a value of $179. More than 250 deals were bought, according to Groupon Getaways' website.
The Wyndham Boca deal had nightly rates from $66 per room for two persons (originally $95) and up to two kids 17 years or older could stay free. Travelers scooped up more than 50 deals.
B Ocean's sister property — b2 miami downtown — also has used flash sale offers to drum up business and increase publicity since opening in May.
A current Groupon Getaways deal touts rates from $79 per room per night for a stay for two, valid through November. As of Friday more than 120 of them were sold with six days left on the promotion.
"This [flash sale] channel is a viable option for b2 right now because the hotel is new, is ramping up awareness, and we are currently in a slower season for Miami," Director of Revenue Management Saul Sarmiento said.
Sarmiento however doesn't see flash sales as an ongoing strategy.
"Once there is more recognition with the hotel, we want to push travelers to book through the brand website at the true value of the hotel."
Findings of a 2012 Cornell School of Hotel Administration survey of nearly 200 North American and international hotel operators found that 42 percent had tested a flash deal promotion, with some offering multiple deals.
However, 46 percent said they had no intention of offering a flash deal citing concerns about the potential damage of group discounts to their brand. The other 12 percent of respondents were considering using flash sales.
"We were surprised at both the high percentage of hotels that have used flash deals, and at the equally high percentage that want nothing to do with them," said Gabriele Piccoli, a visiting research fellow who worked on the survey, in a statement. "It appears that hotels need to be strategic about how they construct these offers."
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