This article is from Management magazine
Hit hard by the global tourism crisis, Booking.com, a juggernaut in booking accommodation, had to go through restructuring. The company plans to reduce its workforce by a quarter. A blow to the flourishing platform, founded in 1996, which has an annual turnover of some 10 billion euros and employs 17,500 people around the world. Despite this announced social plan, which the company did not wish to return to in this interview, Booking.com has not given up on its projects and ambitions. Malena Gufflet, Director General for France, arrived at the very beginning of the Covid pandemic, wants to be resolutely optimistic. While waiting for the return of the sunny days, the company is already seeking to broaden its field of action by forging new partnerships and by placing its pawns in the ticketing, transport and offerings market. experiences”.
- Malena Gufflet’s bio :
- 2012: Sales Director Business Travel France, AccorHotels.
2014 : Sales Director of Aparthotels Adagio (AccorHotels group).
2016: Sales Director of Maisons Options.
2020: General Manager France of the online accommodation reservation platform Booking.com.
Management: Booking has established itself in a few years as a heavyweight in the sector. How do you explain this success?
Malena Gufflet: Access to our platform is free, anywhere in the world, for travelers as well as for our partners, hoteliers and owners. It is also a distribution channel that our partners can use to promote their accommodation to a large international clientele, where the cost of the service is only perceived once the reservation has been made. Today, we offer 29 million accommodations. Three quarters are hotels and, the rest, multiple and alternative solutions such as apartments, furnished apartments, lodges, villas … This does not prevent us from evolving in a very competitive environment: in front of us, there are online travel platforms, tour operators, hotel chains, etc. In Europe, Booking.com only represents 13% of hotel revenues on average.
How did you manage to emerge in such competition?
What makes us different is in particular a quality of service, based on 24/7 access to our customer service centers, which are present all over the world. They can answer up to 400,000 daily calls in over 40 languages! In addition, we do not stop innovating. Every day, for example, we run thousands of tests on our site to improve the user experience. This allows us to check which of the two versions of a page performs better. We also sponsor innovative companies, supporting them financially, such as the Global Himalayan Expedition project, which provides solar electric installations to isolated mountain villages, by offering travelers the opportunity to take part in “impact” expeditions. These projects go in the direction of sustainable tourism.
>> To read also – Towards a green passport for traveling in Europe
You took over the management of Booking.com France just before the start of the crisis. It wasn’t the easiest time …
I arrived in January 2020 to ensure the deployment of the group on the French market, at the head of a team of 300 people and of the customer service center located in Tourcoing. The period was very intense since, from February, we were touched by the beginnings of the crisis in Asia. But our state of mind has always been that of the collective: I practice a rather inclusive management, where I try to leave no one behind. Initially, we had to listen and support our teams to cope with the workload: the management of changes to reservations, cancellations, but also questions from our partners. During the first confinement, the internal organization did not change. On the other hand, all the teams were mobilized for this daily assistance to our customers and our partners. Our watchwords then were – and still are: listen, inform, support.
The relationship between Booking and hoteliers has not always been good. Until recently, they criticized you for reimbursing customers directly … without having warned them.
The frustration with the current situation is justified, but we have handled all requests for information within extremely short deadlines. Our mission has always been to facilitate incoming requests by creating the appropriate tools such as, for example, the deferral buttons, which allow customers to shift their reservation with a single click. We have organized, via our platform, a systematic exchange between hoteliers and consumers in order to promote vouchers, as provided for in our contractual agreements. Bringing added value to our partners is our raison d’être.
>> To read also – Airbnb: rain of sanctions to come for the renters in violation?
Concretely, how is your daily activity organized?
I spend a lot of time in videoconferencing: in France, employees have been working remotely since last March. I think my role is to reassure, to listen and to provide a transparent view of our activity, despite the difficulties encountered by the tourism industry. Let’s not hide our results: in the second quarter of 2020, our turnover was 84%, and activity was down 48% in the third quarter, offset by the summer period.
Has the crisis pushed you to change your offers?
At the end of the first confinement, we were not demotivated: this summer, we launched a call, called “Rebook Campaign”, which invited travelers to take back a reservation in places where they had not been able to travel during containment, with a 15% reduction on the total price. To support the local economy and revive tourism, we have convinced our partners to follow us by not perceiving service costs on reservations resulting from this initiative, and we are satisfied with the results. We have also added filters to our platform to make Covid precautionary measures visible and to promote the display of accommodation according to the measures they have taken. We’ve made regular updates to our products and online resources to help hoteliers navigate both health regulations and guest preferences.
We are not unaware of the scenarios which foresee that we will take several years to find the figures for 2019. In the meantime, we organize weekly information sessions to take stock of the situation and the government announcements concerning our sector. Each new announcement causes significant movements on our site.
- Booking.com aggregates 29 million listings, 153,000 destinations in 226 countries and territories around the world.
Booking.com’s ambition was to become a great tour operator. Does that still make sense?
Our sector was growing strongly before the crisis, so the reservoir of demand still exists. The question is rather what type of tourism will develop in the future. Our goal now is to improve the travel experience. This is why we want to be present in all its aspects, with an integrated offer in accommodation, but also in activities, ticketing and transport. We have already launched the reservation of dry flights to 13 countries in Europe, as well as to the United States. We have also entered into a partnership with Tui – the German travel giant – which aggregates more than 70,000 attractions, museums and tourist sites. This will allow us to offer a complementary experience to our hosting offer. In other words, our ambitions are intact: we are planning to develop connected travel, focusing on this notion of experience. For this, we can rely on a wide range of alternative accommodation, which allows us to better understand changes in expectations and behavior.
>> Our service – Book your hotel at the best price worldwide while guaranteeing the hotelier a better margin
Do you think global tourism will continue to grow exponentially?
The word exponential is, in my opinion, inappropriate. Travelers now favor experience, nature, simplicity and authenticity. We must evolve according to these expectations. But, anyway, I believe in the return of growth. When the economy turns better, our platform will be well positioned in the tourism market, as we are able to anticipate the needs of travelers around the world and shape industry trends and perspectives. We must play a leading role in the return of growth and continue to make travel accessible to as many people as possible. The desire for elsewhere remains intact.
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How Booking has established itself as a travel giant … and how it intends to remain so