The changing nature of the travel industry has been a hot topic at this year’s Web Summit. 

Gillian Tans, the CEO of Booking.com, particularly emphasised how increased mobile usage is driving this change.

From multichannel ads to personalised apps – Booking.com is intent on keeping up with the evolving needs of its customers.

Here's more on Gillian's talk, including other ways the company is delivering a winning experience all round.

Fostering diversity and innovation

When asked if Booking.com was a travel site or a tech company, Gillian didn’t miss a beat before answering with the latter. 

Because while travel might be its product, what many people fail to realise is that Booking.com is in fact the third largest ecommerce platform in the world. 

With a large team of web developers, and running more than 1,000 A/B tests at any one time, it also prides itself on innovating through continuous experimentation.

Interestingly, while on this topic, Gillian emphasised how Booking.com also prides itself on diversity.

Women make up 60% of the company's workforce, and with little to no background in technology herself, she explained why the company’s diversity is an important reflection of its global and wide-ranging demographic. 

Concierge services to improve experiences

Booking.com fosters innovation through its constant measurement of data.

In other words, it is continually looking at what customers want from the site as well as how they behave online.

In turn, it is always introducing new technology and features to improve the online experience.  

One example is a focus on delivering personalised messaging even long after the customer has booked their accommodation. 

Now, customers can interact with the site on their way to a hotel or apartment or even while out and about looking at tourist landmarks.

Whether they want to order room service or make a restaurant reservation, concierge features like these help to create a more bespoke and personalised experience from start to finish. 

Targeting mobile travellers in the moment

So, what enables innovation like this to occur in the first place?

Increased mobile usage, of course.

Gillian spoke about how today’s consumers, and specifically millennial consumers, are using their mobiles in the moment – deliberately travelling without a plan and relying on smartphone technology to give them the service they need in real time.

Naturally, when it comes to push notifications, there is a fine line between a mobile app being helpful and annoying. 

However, Gillian goes back to the notion of measuring and testing user response to determine when and how often interaction is required.

Ultimately, it should never be about bombarding the customer with messaging, but engaging with them in the moments when they need it most. 

Staying relevant in a competitive space

With over 1m transactions every day, Booking.com’s customer base is huge.

So, how does the company compete for the millennial audience against the likes of Airbnb.

For Gillian, the answer is offering a non-traditional mix of multichannel marketing.

While Airbnb and other more digital companies might resist offline entirely, Booking.com still dedicates a small yet focused portion of its budget to this. 

Why? Well, despite the ‘in-the-moment’ demand of mobile consumers, the company recognises the fact that a memorable offline ad is also what’s needed to stay in the mind of someone booking in six months' time. 

That being said, the company is still largely digital in its marketing presence - continually optimising for search to ensure relevancy and visibility online. 

Likewise, social media spaces like Facebook, where travel is an ever-present topic of conversation, offer great opportunities for targeted ads.

(If you fancy a look at other travel marketing campaigns, you can find 10 great examples here.)

The future of travel

While Booking.com is undeniably functional, its site has often been criticised for being incredibly unsexy in design.

A little harsh, perhaps. But does this matter?

For Gillian, the answer is decidedly no.

What is important is that the company takes into consideration actual customer feedback rather than just assuming what it is they might want.

Again, this goes back to user testing, with the developers making small and constant changes in order to gauge response.

In future, more pressing matters include improving the Booking.com experience in any way possible.

This looks set to include greater chatbot functionality, with booking assistants enabling an even faster and easier journey (both online and in literal terms) for customers than ever before.

Finally, at the end of the talk, Gillian was asked a rather shoehorned-in question about Brexit. More specifically, its potential impact on the travel industry.

For a global company like Booking.com, there doesn't appear to be any major issues on the horizon.

Ultimately, it appears that people will always travel. The only thing that might change is where they travel to. 

But then again, with more leaving this decision up to the last minute, and even using sites like Booking.com to decide for them – nothing in this industry is quite so certain any more.

For more on this topic, see:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 9 November, 2016 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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