|Clem Bason, chief executive of the Hotwire Group. (Erik Jacobs for The Boston Globe)|
Lowdown on high-flying deals
Clem Bason, chief executive of the Hotwire Group, which includes travel discount site Hotwire.com, talked to reporter Katie Johnston Chase about the joys of going on vacation, the wonders of Sedona, Ariz., and his favorite Hotwire deal.
What’s going on in the discount travel world?
In January, more than half of the hotel rooms in the country on any given night were completely empty. . . . It’s like 1.8 million hotel rooms a night. So that’s our entire goal in life, really, to help those companies sell those things that would otherwise go empty and they would just lose those dollars. And what we ask those companies in exchange is for a discount that’s deeper than they would normally offer.
What are the discounts like?
Everyone should be upgrading because you can get the four- and five-star properties for an amount of money that you just won’t believe. I was looking on Hotwire in Mexico this morning . . . you can get a four-star in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta for $50 a night. . . . Expedia does this survey every year about people’s vacation habits - they’ve been doing it for a long time, four or five years - and they keep finding that people are taking less and less vacation every year. And it really bums me out. OK, we’re in a bad time, so just relax a little more. Take more time off. Don’t stress. Go some place. You can get it and not break the bank.
Fewer people have been traveling during the recession, but more people have been looking for bargains. What effect has that had on Hotwire?
Business travel is in dire straits. . . . It looks like it will be 20-plus percent down over last year. . . . It just takes a giant piece of business, a very profitable business, away from every airline, car rental company, and hotel in the country. And so they then therefore have to discount, and . . . it’s actually drawing more leisure travel. . . . Bookings for hotels on Hotwire and on many other sites are way up.
According to a recent study by Forrester Research, fewer travelers are enjoying using the Web to plan and buy trips. What do you make of that?
This was the year of fees. . . . And they hide it from you until the very last step, many of the sites. . . . So I imagine that it’s less fun, because you might see a price point and know: They’re going to get me somewhere between now and when I’m going to check out. . . . TripAdvisor has a new flight search product where they allow you to see the [airline] price with and without bag-check fees. . . . And on Hotwire on car rentals, we’re trying to do our part by pushing the end price right up so the first time you hit search, I’m going to show you the full price with all the taxes and fees included.
Do you have a favorite vacation destination?
Lately I’ve been going down to Sedona, and it’s just beautiful. These gorgeous red canyons. You fly into Phoenix, and you’re like, oh, desert. And then I’ve just found northern Arizona - Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon and Sedona - to be so gorgeous.
Isn’t Sedona where all the new age stuff happens?
It is, but it’s not as fearsome as many of the articles I’ve read. I thought I would be accosted by spiritual healers with crystals. If you seek them out, they’re there, but it’s not like they’re standing on every street corner chanting at you.
What’s the best Hotwire deal you’ve ever gotten?
I’m a little bit outdoorsy, so I love flying into Las Vegas, having one night in Las Vegas, because I can’t personally take more than one night in Las Vegas. Get in the car the next morning - Hotwire always has good discounted car rentals in Las Vegas, too - so you’ve got that nice one-two punch. Get in the car and drive to Zion National Park in southern Utah. You can be there in like two hours, two and a half. . . . It’s just a stunning area of the US. And you can go for so cheap.
A good flight on sale [from California] would be $125 roundtrip. Call the hotel - I’ll even go on the expensive side if I’m in a five-star - $125. So up to $250. Then car rental for a couple days, you’re probably at $75. So $325.
You worked at the Gap before you came to Hotwire. They showed me how to [fold clothes] with a ruler. ... It’s like I was in Catholic school again.