With his t-shirt with the image of the house on the back, the American CEO of Booking.com seems to come out of a sports session. It must be said that lately, the leading platform in tourist reservations is working hard. The news is busy for Glenn Fogel, a former lawyer who still lives in New York while the historic headquarters of the company is in Amsterdam.
Having joined the company in 2000, the one who has been piloting Booking for four years is going through one of the most delicate periods of his career, which does not prevent him from continuing to develop the group. It announces to L’Express this week the launch of a new feature aiming to promote on its site the most cutting-edge accommodation in terms of sustainable development – 57,000 establishments initially out of the 28 million advertisements on its site. platform.
On this occasion, he confides on the impact of the pandemic on his activity, France’s place in the global tourism market and the crucial negotiations taking place around the regulation of digital giants, which could see the ‘European Booking be sanctioned in the same way as the dominant American Gafam. Maintenance.
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L’Express: You who are in New York, do you already see the first Europeans coming back?
Glenn Fogel : Last Monday, news channels and newspapers filled with photographs of reunions of people who had not seen each other for almost two years. It was moving. And for the travel industry, that’s great news. Moreover, when the United States announced the lifting of the travel ban, we immediately noticed an increase in reservations. In fact, even before we heard the news, our indicators were showing us that something was going on, European reservations about the United States exploded. I’m so glad it happened.
To be honest, it didn’t make sense to me not to let Europeans come to America; you had a lower rate of circulation of the virus in Europe than in us. Conversely, we are unfortunately starting to see more cases of Covid in some parts of Europe (Germany, Italy, Russia, Austria, the Netherlands …) and this obviously has an impact on the desire to travel. People are canceling trips they had planned. It is a concern for us. It’s unfortunate, but we’re going to live with this trend for a long time.
This means that you are still getting used to living with the virus …
We are in the second half of the Covid. But no one knows when we’ll be out of it. We have to be optimistic, but we see that in certain areas, locally, there are still problems. I will only be happy when we are out of the pandemic.
Your figures are pretty good for Q3 2021, travel bookings amounted to $ 23.7 billion (+ 77% compared to Q3 2020). Does that reassure you?
Slowly but surely our numbers are improving. But we are not yet out of the woods as they say. What would help us a lot is for everyone to get vaccinated. We could get it over with so much faster. I say it again here: get vaccinated! No army can come to your aid, but you can help the world. I remain very confident for next year even though no one knows on what day we will be able to say that we are rid of the pandemic.
In the meantime, you are launching a new feature allowing hoteliers to display a badge guaranteeing their commitments in terms of sustainable development. Where did the idea come from?
For us, this is very important. Our mission is to help people discover the world. We all know where climate change is going, and that’s not good. So we all need to work hard and Booking.com needs to be a leader in this area. Governments gathered in Glasgow for COP 26, and we cannot depend solely on their decisions. We must act now. And that’s why we’re launching this badge. We worked on 32 criteria to measure the efforts made in terms of waste management, water or greenhouse gas emissions, for example.
People will know when they see an ad with this badge that it is responsible hosting. For hoteliers, it will be more bookings as people favor this kind of place. You know, Booking’s original purpose was to help customers because they couldn’t compete with international hotel chains. We put back the competition. With this badge, we’re going to help the small independent hotels in the industry that do things right stand out (57,000 badges distributed initially on 28 million active advertisements, Editor’s note). We need to give them that visibility.
Can sustainable development become as powerful an argument as the price?
I think pricing is still very important to people. But I observe – anecdotally for the moment, because I did not have enough data to prove it -, that people are ready to pay more for responsible travel. However, a “sustainable” stay shouldn’t be more expensive and we believe that in the long run things will balance out. It will take time, will require investment, but there is no doubt in my mind that sustainability will be a powerful marketing argument. This will be one reason why people will want to choose your hotel over another.
France, because of its position as a world leader in tourism, is it a more sensitive market than the others for you? Are you going to strengthen yourself in the coming years?
We never communicate about specific countries, but we all know that France was the number one destination in the world before the Covid. And one of the challenges for you is to maintain this tourism leadership. I know that President Emmanuel Macron has offered some ideas to try to ensure that France remains the most important place to visit. For that you must make sure to develop new ways of bringing people in and I am ready to work with the French government to achieve this. We have hundreds of people working in France (700 employees, Editor’s note) and we want to make sure that this activity continues to grow in France.
What must France do to remain the leader in world tourism?
I think one of the most important things people come to France for is your culture, your amazing history and your landscapes. It’s kind of your oil and I think it will stay that way forever. All we can do is make it easier for people to go to France and make it cheaper. The government has not helped us in the past when it announced the digital services tax that has affected us. Because we are a tour provider. It is never a good thing to add a tax, it can push people to go elsewhere.
Despite what happened in Rome during the last G20 (a historic agreement on a minimum taxation of 15% for multinationals, Editor’s note), we hope that these taxes on digital services will disappear. I hope our arguments will end up weighing in, because I am sure there is a long way between the Rome accord and actual changes in the law. We will see.
The second thing we need to do is work together to ensure that everyone in this industry is working under the same rules. If we could find a consistent way of doing business and make sure everyone plays the game, no matter their reservation system, that would help us a lot.
You talk about taxes, do you still think that Europe is making a big mistake with the various regulations that are being discussed in Brussels on digital services?
We are not against regulation, but for good regulation. In fact, what poses a problem for me with the current debate is that they are trying to classify us as an essential gateway to the travel market, a bit like Google on search engines. This is a very bad reading of who we are as a marketplace. How often do you go through Booking to book your hotel? We are not the only option you have. There are the websites of the hotels, there is Expedia and the others, your travel agency in the street, etc. We have one of the most competitive industries in the world.
We only have a 13% market share in European hotels, so the idea that we’re going to be regulated like Google is absolutely crazy and doesn’t make any sense to me. We may be a European leader, but we are small. With these new regulations (Digital markets act and digital services act, Editor’s note) we will be penalized. And during that time, our American and Chinese competitors will not be impacted. To me, it makes no sense to see European governments trying to penalize a European technology leader in the hosting industry for favoring non-European companies.
Even though I am an American citizen, my loyalty is total towards Booking. See how many people we employ in Europe, the turnover generated and how we are helping the tech ecosystem in Europe. If we had a 90% market share like Google, that’s fine, but talking about us as a dominant position just makes me smile. We fight every day to bring competition to this market. If governments reduce our capacity, it will be consumers and hoteliers who will ultimately be affected. It does not mean anything !
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“Treating us like Google is a crazy idea!”, The charge of the CEO of Booking against Brussels