Smart Destinations: Creative Intermediation for Growth-Challenged Times
I had breakfast last week with Rob Schmults, an ecommerce veteran who after gigs at Fort Point Partners and GSI Commerce is now CMO at Boston-based Smart Destinations. Rob's firm sells you and me a fixed-price, all-you-can-eat, multi-day "Go-Card" that provides discounted admissions to a variety of attractions in 15 cities across the US. In an otherwise tough economy, Smart Destinations is growing at a healthy rate. As such, it provides an interesting model for others trying to find ways to do the same.
- Today, Smart Destinations sells principally to folks in city X visiting City Y. But imagine if it were to reconceive itself as a "platform" for "third-party affiliates", and allow local teachers and grad students to put together "profjonestourofcoolthingsforkidstodoinharvardsquare dot smartdestinations.com", tapping new market segments of suburban families desperate for high-quality activities in their own cities on grim winter Saturdays.
- Today, attractions are enrolled ahead of time and are relatively "slow-in", "slow-out" of the program. A logical extension might be to offer a "Site59.com"-style "dynamic-packaging" approach in addition to the base service. Site59.com was an ingenious service created in 1999 that purchased blocks of unsold airline seats, unbooked hotel rooms, and unreserved restaurant tables and concert tickets on the cheap, and combined them into conveniently pre-planned packages for busy professionals desperate for a weekend away with significant others, but unable to plan more than a day or two ahead. The resulting attractive arbitrage -- buy what someone's desperate to sell, and sell what someone's desperate to buy, was a big winner in the dark days of 2001-2002. (My erstwhile colleagues at ArsDigita were proud to have worked with the Site59 team to build the service.)
- Today, Smart Destinations markets through a variety of conventional channels -- search, affiliate programs. But travel journalism suggests a number of potentially synergistic relationships. Think for example, of a Smart Destinations partnership / sponsorship of iconic regular editorial features like the NYT's "36 hours" . A few purists might sniff at the erosion of "Church-State" boundaries, but pragmatists no doubt would cheer!