Amazon was once billed as a serious contender in the online hotel business. But it seems that ambition is well and truly over.

Last week, an announcement by the firm took the industry, as well as Amazon Destinations employees, by surprise: the hotel booking site has closed.

The closure of the site comes after Amazon, just six months ago, moved beyond selling deeply discounted hotel rooms into a more well-rounded hotel-booking business with more destinations, Skift reports. It seemed like a positive move at the time.

Today, there's a notice on the website's homepage saying: "Effective 13 October 2015, Amazon Destinations has stopped selling hotel breaks on and the Amazon Local app. All existing bookings will be honoured. No action is required on your part."

Even some of Amazon's sales representatives were blind-sided by the shutdown, apologising to their hotel industry clients, says Skift.

An Amazon spokesperson simply said: "We have learned a lot and have decided to discontinue Amazon Destinations."

Asked why a job advert from 7 October for an executive assistant at Amazon restaurants and travel was still being offered at the time of writing – even though other online job postings for Amazon Destinations have been withdrawn – the spokesperson pointed out that the role covers restaurants deals, which are still being offered.

Amazon's efforts seem to have lacked clarity for some time – for example, with the firm having sold discounted rooms for years and then in April 2015, deciding to expand the service to include rooms in a larger number of destinations at published prices, Skift comments.

People who have spoken to Amazon hotel personnel also indicate it was clear that the company at times didn't really know what it wanted. It was struggling over issues that other online hotel sites had struggled with and resolved years ago, Skift continues.

"Despite the wealth of data that Amazon has about consumer behaviour and its reach, Amazon Destinations was a relative dud," says the travel industry news site.

As much as the news about Amazon Destinations' demise has taken workers and hotels by surprise, there was some indication that the business was in trouble.

On reviewing hotel competitors during its analysis of Expedia's acquisition of Orbitz Worldwide, the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice cited TripAdvisor and Google as rising competitors but failed to mention Amazon.