Pepijn Rijvers knows more than most about Booking.com’s meteoric rise.
Last April, Rijvers became CMO of Europe’s largest online travel company, which also happens to be the key engine behind Priceline Group’s recent growth.
But back in October 2008, when Rijvers joined Booking.com as a director of business development, the company was still relatively small. Its whole IT department was only about 30 people.
Rijvers has seen — and helped to drive — the business’s spectacular growth. Tnooz sat down with him while he was at the Phocuswright Conference in Florida last week to learn more.
He talked about Booking’s new B2B tool Pulse, why Booking is still the best distribution value for hotels, and other hot topics.
Tnooz: What can we expect from Booking.com on the marketing front soon? What’s news to update?
Rijvers: If you listen carefully, both to interviews that I give, speeches that Darren gives, or what we talk about, there’s two words that will continue to surface, which is “experience” on one hand, and “diversity” on the other.
Being a global platform, especially with our enhanced mobile tools, we see such a literally humongous opportunity for us. That’s our task, really, to make the travel experience fantastic. Focusing on the user experience, and focusing on a diversity of offerings, can get us to the next level.
We can now not only look-to-book, where we’ve always invested our attention. With mobile, we can also be really part of your whole journey, which for us, is like a Valhalla, a Nirvana, right? We can literally do so much to make your travel really fantastic thanks to mobile devices being with you in the moment…
What’s happening now is a lot of price competition. It almost feels like everybody’s competing for price….
To me, anything that commoditizes the hotel, honestly, is the enemy of Booking.com. We feel deeply passionate about how each of these lodging experience actually are worthwhile having and unique, in essence.
For us, anything that goes towards commoditization is pretty weird and against our spirit. So we’re gravitating enormously the other way.
This is where diversity and experience come to life…. As a vendor, we de-commoditize what we offer.
Mobile really allows us to improve the product that way. What you can expect, from a product front, as on the marketing front, is that we’ll be doing more talking about that, showing that, bringing the product to life.
Tnooz: Talking more about mobile? Talking about user experience?
Rijvers: Yeah, talking more about the user experience that we’re driving, and mobile facilitates this often.
An example is we launched an app a couple of months ago called Pulse. Pulse is a partner-facing. Our property partners can use it. It is meant to facilitate instant messaging between the property, the guest, and us.
Instant messaging is a very important element in today’s type of communication. I am starting to find emails pretty obsolete and old right now because it can just be so much more effective through a messaging platform.
What you see there, basically, is the back-end work that we’re doing to allow consumer to have instant conversations with property owners across the globe. We will facilitate, of course, with either helping out, translations, speaking the right language, of course, as the platform. It’s been downloaded by over 100,000 property partners now. Which is like a 16% adoption rate within only a couple of month’s time.
Tnooz: It acts like an extranet? Or, is it…
Rijvers: Yeah. It’s very much geared around communication, but we do…
Tnooz: Communication with the regional managers…
Rijvers: The property owner, or it could be front-of-house, it really depends on where they would put it…. We can show you how we’re hosting the conversation with the customer. It has daily updates where you see today, you’ve got so many guests checking in.
Or, you see that you’ve received a new booking, you’ve got a new review.
We’re basically trying to bring alive how that property lives on our platform. We get already standardized responses and questions, surface questions from customers.
If someone wants an extra bed, or you want to change the bed type, you want to book a meal, or stuff like that is all functionalities that we’re building on top of that platform right now.
That, of course, because it’s an object, in a sense, like, “I want to change my bed type.” Okay, into us, that’s standardized information…
Tnooz: Okay, cool. Would you be able to talk a bit more about the supplier side? Pulse is fascinating for me, and Gillian Tans has spoken about what the Hotel Ninjas acquisition means, what BookingSuite means. Is there anything else that would help suppliers that you can talk about?
Rijvers: What we’re seeing, generally — and what we want to solve — is that there’s an enormous amount of friction in hotel tech markets. It’s super-fragmented; it’s typically pretty expensive: so, either monthly fees or commission percentages.
You typically need to have a whole tool set built on top of each other, to be communicating with each other, like the CRS, CRF system, channel manager, rate management, BI, BMS, calendering.
Tnooz: How many more vendor products can the hotel manager handle, really?
Rijvers: Exactly. Since there are no tech partners, what you typically see is that they under-invest, at first, to then build up legacy that puts them in a spot where it’s very hard to move.
Also, I don’t see a lot of incentive in hotel tech partners to make their products really user-friendly by front-line staff. I actually see a lot of incentive to make sure equipment stays antiquated and that they just add more partners to the existing platform.
Also, the client server technology is dead, as far as I’m concerned. Cloud-based solutions are something which is inherently more scalable. We can innovate easier, we can keep the portal live more easily.
Therefore, there is an enormous opportunity for us to help our property partners with just basically coming online, literally coming online.
Online does not only mean being available in travel agencies. It means literally digitizing their entire business process. At first, aimed at … I think where a lot of core strength for us is is in the long-tail and in alternative lodging.
The smaller properties — I doubt we would ever to be able to assist franchisees of Marriott, for instance. They, of course, have a lot of reasons why they have their proprietary systems. I’d make a strong case, I would like to go as far as regional hotel chains that have up to 100 properties and that have maybe three, four people front-of-house.
Tnooz: Or a group that may only have 20 or 30 hotels around Europe?
Rijvers: For instance. I think also, given the 178 offices Darren also spoke about us having worldwide, and the amount of staff that we have locally helps us. We already have all the core information that we need.
Effectively, you are already digital in our world. We already have a CRM, 6,000 people operating it. You know how it works, you know how web works. That’s a good opportunity.
Also, because it’s particularly the combination of the three: customer experience, coming online, as a platform where we can then have PMSs fire stuff out, like, “This is the room number, this is the WiFi code, this is the check-in details. Oh, we’ve, by the way, already in the background, settled the payment for you. Here’s the bill.”
No one has to touch this. I see a lot of opportunity for the industry, literally here and for us as well. Does that make sense?
Tnooz: What’s on the horizon? And what are misconceptions about Booking.com that should be called out — or parts of its story that haven’t received proper appreciation?
Rijvers: I’d say there’s two things I’d call out there, which I think are interesting, to say the least, in this sector.
Let me start off first with: the travel industry is inherently a competition market. No one can survive on their own, everybody needs each other. That’s also true for us, it’s true for hotel partners.