Groupon Acquires SideTour To Offer Bespoke Local Experiences

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on September 18 2013 8:52 PM
SideTour Groupon
Want to eat dinner with an investment banker-cum-bhakti yogi? This is just one of the many "experiences" available on SideTour. SideTour

Groupon (NASDAQ: GRPN) marched further away from daily deals and deeper into online travel Wednesday when it announced that it had acquired bespoke “experience marketplace” SideTour for an undisclosed amount. A TechStars NYC alum, SideTour has made a name for itself over the past two years by handpicking unique local experiences and offering them to small groups online. The experiences range from dinner with a banker-turned-monk to urban-beekeeping classes, graffiti lessons and a tour of a Hollywood weapons depot.

SideTour’s offerings span food, drink, architecture, history and art, are typically hosted by experts like chefs, sommeliers or even Olympic medalists, and average about 12 attendees. All aim to make a local out of a tourist and a tourist out of a local.

"By offering these highly personalized activities, tours and memorable things to do through Groupon, we can deliver even more fun ways for our customers to explore and discover the best local experiences," GrouponLive General Manager Greg Rudin said in a statement Wednesday. GrouponLive is the company’s joint venture with Live Nation, which first opened for business in 2011 with event ticket deals, but appears to have diversified over the past year.

Groupon spokesman Nicholas Halliwell told International Business Times in an email that SideTour would move into the company’s New York offices, but remain independent, at least initially.

“SideTour will run as a separate entity for the time being and will report to GrouponLive GM, Greg Rudin,” he explained. “By distributing their inventory to our 43 million active customers through Groupon’s email, Web and mobile channels, we’re able to expand the selection of our local e-commerce marketplace and further our vision of Groupon as the go-to place for consumers to find just about anything, anywhere, anytime.”

Halliwell said SideTour would continue to offer the same type of bespoke, vetted tours it currently does under the Groupon umbrella. In fact, several offerings are already promoted on the Groupon site, though the global leader in local commerce has yet to set a timetable for expanding SideTour beyond its four core cities -- New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C. -- where it offers more than 500 public and private events.

“Where we expand depends on the number of qualified hosts as well as consumer demand,” Halliwell explained.

In an email to users, SideTour co-founder and CEO Vipin Goyal promised to maintain the intimacy and premium quality of the company’s experiences. This has been SideTour’s hallmark since it launched in August 2011 and the major point of differentiation between it and rivals Vayable, Gidsy and CanaryHop, which have less stringent (and in some cases nonexistent) vetting processes for hosts.

“The SideTour we’ve all grown to love isn’t going anywhere,” Goyal assured. “The company and its mission are here to stay, new unique experiences will continue to be launched every week, and everyone’s gift certificates and credits can all still be used on sidetour.com. The big change is that a lot more people will be able to join in the fun.”

Goyal said that fusing with the Groupon family simply allowed SideTour to scale up “much faster than our small team could have ever imagined.

SideTour announced a $2.5 million funding round in March -- about the same time the company expanded out of its New York base -- which it added to a previous Series A round of $1.5 million. The startup has collected a 20 percent transaction fee on all activities, and told IBTimes over the winter that its revenues were more than doubling each quarter.

The acquisition of SideTour comes just a week after Groupon took on Blink, a Madrid-based travel app for last-minute hotel bookings that is active in eight European markets and will soon be integrated into the Groupon Getaways travel category. Both acquisitions signal a shift away from daily coupons, which many consumers said overwhelmed their inboxes, and toward longer-term deals with trusted merchants.

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