Being innovative in travel is “tough” because of the challenge of bringing disparate product together on one platform while also providing an online consumer experience that converts.
Speaking at Phocuswright Europe, Booking.com vice president global segments Olivier Gremillon, said travel remains complicated as consumers trawl multiple websites to find what they want.
He was responding to Lastminute.com founder Brent Hoberman who had told the annual conference that he has been “hugely disappointed” by the level of innovation in travel since the early 2000s.
Gremillon, who joined Booking.com from peer-to-peer pioneer Airbnb last year, conceded the industry “might be a bit slow putting into practice” what Brent was talking about 20 years ago.
But he said execution is what Booking.com is all about and that it has taken 20 years to pull accommodation content onto one platform, and now embark on other travel segments.
“It’s hard,” he said, “you have to go to hotels one by one to bring them on the platform. It’s a tough business.
“The goal now is to do that in other segments [activities and experiences, ground transport, alternative accommodation]. Doing that is always complicated.
“Making it a seamless experience for the guests brings its own challenges. Maybe we are not innovating, but mostly that’s because it’s difficult to integrate all this supply.”
Gremillon added, once the tricky supply side is sorted, on the consumer side users want websites that convert well. “It’s a tough job,” he said.
Booking.com has started testing retailing activities in 10 cities in the post accommodation purchase phase ahead of a wider roll out.
Gremillon said it chose to target customers who had booked accommodation because it could personalise the offer and did not have to buy traffic for people only in the market for activities.
“We are not choosing for the customer, we are giving them all the options and we are filtering for them, but it’s their choice. What we realised was it’s difficult to do because you have to aggregate.
“I take his [Brent’s] point that if you look from a consumer point of view, is the travel booking experience ten time better than 10 years ago. I would not say it is necessarily.
“Is it because we are not innovating, or is it because it’s more difficult than we thought it was gong to be? It’s probably a bit of both.”
Gremillon was asked about the potential threat of Google bringing all its travel products like Hotels Ads, Flights Search and Trips under one URL.
“Everyone was expecting them to put that all together, starting on mobile. It’s no big surprise. In true Google fashion it’s pretty easy to use. It’s actually a pretty cool product.
“They are pretty transparent about the fact that they want things easier to search on Google in general, not just in travel.
“When you talk to them, they say they are just sticking to what they said they would do for some time. It’s no surprise that if you have five products in travel you’d want to bring them under one umbrella.”
And addressing Amazon’s ambitions in travel, Gremillon dismissed claims the retail giant was set to become the next dominant player.
But he said: “It’s no secret they are going one vertical after another. We are in partnership with them right now.”