In the last couple of years group buying sites such as Groupon, Ouffer and Spreets have grown in popularity both in Australia and around the world as places to go to find discounted accommodation deals. They have long been offering discounted deals in the hair, beauty and hospitality industries however they seem to have really found their niche in the travel industry. We all want a deal when we travel, so of course it was a natural progression.
As popular as these sites have become, they have also been flagged with just as much controversy - from anything to do with the accommodation being nothing like what was advertised, to the vendor not keeping their part of the bargain, or even the worst case scenario of arriving at the accommodation and the receptionist not knowing anything about the deal you have purchased.
Those of you may even remember the great Spreets disaster in which a six night accommodation deal valued at $7789 for the exclusive Hilton in Bora Bora was offered at a discounted rate of $2275. Those three hundred or so people who purchased the deal found when they tried to actually book that none of the rooms that were promised in the original deal were available and in most cases there were no rooms available at all. The company Spreets' used as their travel agent Travel Smooth ended up declaring bankruptcy after the whole incident and Spreets was left to fork out refunds to irate customers. I know this because I was one of the customers who bought this deal thinking I had scored an absolute bargain, and spent months of time and energy trying to sort it out and get a refund.
Which begs the question. Is the risk really worth the reward with these sites?
When group buying became popular in Australia the industry wasn't regulated in any way which left a huge gap for teething problems. Anything that could go wrong did. Group buying sites were popping up left right and centre, and there were limited processes in order to check the companies who were offering deals on the sites. Customers blamed the deal sites for the dodgy deals run and the vendors blamed the deal sites for not having a duty of care to them for checking they had the capacity of being able to run the deal. People expressed their outrage on review sites around Australia and sensationalist programs such as A Current Affair and Today Tonight ran stories on what a disgrace the industry was. People were unhappy.
There was some good to come out of it though. Only the reputable sites survived, the industry become more regulated and a duty of care was put into place to ensure that the vendor's who ran deals on the site were credible, offered a good product or service and had the capacity to handle it when the deal was run. Though deal sites may not be as popular as they may have been when they first came into fruition, those that have lasted are often much more trusted than they may have previously been.
It is never ideal to purchase something that doesn't live up to expectations, but the risk is far more intensified when we're talking about overseas accommodation. It's already stressful enough planning an overseas trip and the last thing we want to happen is to arrive 20,000 kilometres away from home and have something go wrong with where we are staying.
There's a certain amount of risk taken when booking any sort of overnight stay no matter what site or travel agent you go through. From booking a hotel two hours down the road to on the other site of the world you always run the risk of not getting what you pay for or something going wrong. The best thing you can do is research as much as possible and get as educated as you can before booking anything. The company website and any review websites available such as Tripadvisor.com and Oyster.com are an excellent starting point.
The good thing about using deal sites in Australia is that some such as Scoopon now have a 100% money back guarantee if you are not able to get in for the dates that you wanted. They are also do the hard work for you. They communicate directly with the vendor for you and book you in, which saves worrying about time differences and language barriers. They now take a duty of care to ensure that the destination they are running on their site has mostly positive reviews, is over a certain star rating and has been around for a significant amount of time.
Some of the sites like Groupon and Scoopon also now offer deals that can now include the flights to and from your destination and some extra bonuses such as flight transfers, meal vouchers and massages all included in the deal at a discounted rate.
You still have to be careful though. Often the deal may look fantastic on paper but by the time you read through the terms and conditions and the exclusions you may realise that you are going to have to pay an extra thousand dollars for your flights or the dates you want to go are excluded, or the massages and meals are for the only days you won't actually be there.
I am not opposed to buying off a deal site now. In fact, I've just purchased a deal for accommodation in Thailand through one just recently. I believe the industry has grown in so many ways and I have much more trust than I would have had a couple of years ago in purchasing through one. However, I still think that there is risk in booking through anywhere or via any means. I am confident in my own ability to research and ensure that the holiday I'm booking is right for me and I've done as much as I can to minimise any risks possible, whether it's through a deal site or directly through the accommodation provider. And I think that's all you can do when deciding how or who to book a holiday through.