7 years ago

TLabs Showcase – Secret Escapes

TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based hotel flash sale site Secret Escapes.

Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?

We are Secret Escapes, a flash sales site for luxury travel. Secret Escapes members will receive up to 70% off luxury boutique hotels and holidays.

We were originally founded by DMC Digital (who recently sold to EasyVoyage). The DMC founders remain involved as investors, but the business is now run by Tom Valentine (ex-eBay & Seatwave) and Dan Evans (ex-Lastminute.com).

Use this link to skip the waiting list and take a peak:

What financial support did you have to launch the business?

The DMC founders made an original investment in the business and we are currently closing out an angel round with some big names in it. We’ll let you know who at the end of February.

We’ve got enough investment to invest aggressively in growing customers and supply

What problem are you trying to solve?

Private Sales for travel gives holiday buyers access to amazing prices while knowing exactly what they are buying. It lets hotels increase their occupancy and profitability.

It’s a great model that’s taken off elsewhere, but nobody has cracked it in the UK. We’re setting out to change that

Describe the business, core products and services?

Exclusive flash sales in Luxury travel. Hotels offer a significant discount on the best online rate exclusively to Secret Escapes members.

We run five or more sales for a week, and then replace them with five more. We’re selling lots of UK & Europe weekend break product, along with longer haul trips

Who are your key customers and users at launch?

We’ve currently got more than 50 hotels signed up for deals with more signing every day, everything from small boutiques to large chains.

Customer-wise, we’re starting from a base gained by marketing to the Dealchecker real deals product, in addition we’re very excited at how successful forward to a friend marketing was before launch.

Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?

Yes, and it wasn’t hard. Serious discounts on luxury hotels is an amazing proposition to buyers. Hotels are always looking at new ways to improve occupancy and this model is proven in other countries, while giving them an opportunity to discount in a manner that suits their luxury branding

What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?

Secret Escapes takes a commission on sales. We’re aiming to grow the base through targeted partnerships and invest strongly in our supply team to make sure we provide great service to hotels

SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?


  • We’re launching with a base big enough to beat the “chicken and egg” problem many flash sales sites have at launch, along with strong supply and beautiful website. We’re also funded to invest whenever we see an opportunity to grow.


  • The UK consumer is famously cynical about discounts, we’re being very clear how we get to our numbers but we know we have to be careful about offering real value.


  • Right now, being known in the UK for discount luxury travel is our goal, but we occasionally let ourselves think about fun things you could do around widening the proposition, there are lots.


  • Everyone asks us about other players entering the market, we’d see it as competition but also be glad to have others growing and validating the market.

Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?

People ask sensible questions about similarities with the Groupon model.

We like a lot of what they do, but think we make ourselves different by taking a more “curated” approach with our supply, making our content interesting for hotel fans, and not blasting our base every day, we’d like people to look forward to getting our mails.

What is your success metric 12 months from now?

Thousands of happy customers going on holiday every month, helped by us.

tlabs logo microscope NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  4. Jack Sarvary

    I still think that there will be consolidation of some sort, as I outline here: http://itinerie.wordpress.com/, but perhaps it’s fair that in the UK it’s still a wide open market and the dynamics will be different there for a while.

    Duncan, I think you raise a good point. I wonder how much longer this discounting can go on by the hotels. They’re obviously cutting hugely into their profit margins, how long can they possibly maintain it? Unlike GroupOn’s merchants, these hotels are not hoping for return customers. In a recent interview I saw, Drew Patterson (CEO of Jetsetter) focused on his platform being a discovery engine, rather than a source of cheap hotels. I think this is a hint that in the future even well-established companies like Jetsetter are not going to be able to keep up the steep discounts we’ve seen to date.

  5. Duncan

    Interesting. Flash sales sites are all the rage outside of the UK and names like Voyage Prive, Snique Away, Jetsetter and even stuff like Gilt spring to mind. It’s true no-one in the UK’s cracked it – but then the UK is a much, much more fragmented marketplace, so one could argue it’s a tougher nut to crack.

    Is there a risk that these types of deep discounts are a recessionary-driven product? Steep discounting of higher-end hotels began in earnest when the economy slowed and hotels were forced to take drastic rate action in order to drive sales. As economic growth returns and demand stabilises, will we continue to see compelling enough discounts to propagate the evolution of flash sale sites I wonder.

  6. Tom Valentine

    In regards to consolidation, I reckon there’s room for a fair few. One advantage this model offers to hotels is the opportunity to get their brand in front of lots of potential customers. Given that the model is quite email based, there’s a limit to how many hotels a single site can feature in a week. So there’s probabably room to share the market. That said, we’re focussed on making sure we are the favourite!


  7. Jack Sarvary

    Interesting – it’s great to see what these guys are thinking. There are so many of these companies though and they are all doing the exact same thing. There is no benefit from the supply being spread out across so many different platforms, there has to be some consolidation in this market sometime soon!

    • Michael Judd

      When I go to Harrods, Tesco or Amazon or Kayak or Expedia I can walk in and see the goods on sale and also the prices. I am then able to make a decision whether to buy or not.

      Why is is that at your site “Secret escapes” I have to give my personal communication details before I even enter your “shop”.


      • Tom Valentine

        Hi Michael,

        The reason we, and other sites running a similar model, do this is because the deals on the site are negotiated on the agreement that they will only be displayed to members of the site. If the prices were publicly available they’d be higher!

        Tom – MD Secret Escapes

        • Michael Judd

          How interesting!

          I still think it puts the cart before the horse. It seems most unusual to be told you can’t see the goods until you give us something first.

          Talking about models, I understand Rolls Royce do not do that, but I am told that some houses of ill repute will use these tactics.

          If I was a potential customer then don’t you think I should be able to see what you are selling before commitment, and incidentally submit my self and my inbox to daily emails promoting your latest product What ever that is


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