The Crunch: From its beginnings as a small hotel booking website in the Netherlands, Booking.com has grown into a top travel site worldwide thanks to its quick response to trends and the backing of the powerful Priceline Group. The site now boasts nearly 1.2 million available accommodations including hotels, bed and breakfasts, apartments, and home rentals. The site continues to focus on giving travelers all of the tools they need to be confident in their vacation planning decisions. Booking.com even commissions studies to gauge the importance of vacations, how much travelers look forward to them, and what the most important points are in a journey.
After graduating from college in the Netherlands in 1996, Geert-Jan Bruinsma decided to start a business. While he didn’t know what he would be selling, he knew he wanted it to involve the internet, which hadn’t been widely adopted by the Dutch at that time.
During a dinner with friends, the topic of hotel room reservations came up, and after a healthy conversation, Geert-Jan had his idea. By 1997, he launched Bookings.nl — which would eventually become Booking.com — with 10 hotels in his area participating. Online hotel reservation sites were so new that when Geert-Jan tried to advertise in a large Dutch newspaper, the ad was rejected because it was for a website.
“I got a phone call that they refused my advertisement,” Geert-Jan said in Skift.com’s oral history of online travel. “They decided not to accept any advertisements with an Internet address, and there had to be a phone number.”
But Geert-Jan persevered, setting up affiliate relationships with hotels and travel sites, advertising online, and adding more options for its visitors. By 2000, the company had built up a large following and merged with another site called Bookings Online. The new company changed its name and web address to the now famous Booking.com. In 2005, the site was acquired by The Priceline Group, which recognized its vast potential.
Today, Booking.com boasts nearly 1.2 million properties worldwide and has expanded its accommodation options beyond hotels to vacation rentals, bed and breakfasts, and even apartments. The site is always focused on the future of travel and analyzes its own booking data, including surveys, to determine trends and unearth customer insights that factor into the development of features, partnerships, and the addition of properties.
“One of the proudest moments so far has been surpassing the million-property mark,” Todd Dunlap, Managing Director of Booking.com Americas, told us. “This was an accomplishment that was years in the making and truly required the hard work and dedication of all employees from every team.”
The mission of Booking.com — and the subject of some of the company’s humorous commercials — is to make it easy for users to find and reserve a perfect hotel room so that they are confident and excited when they arrive at their destination. The company is accomplishing that through in-depth research, an ever-growing selection, and providing value to travelers.
Studying Emotions About Vacations to Make Booking More Enjoyable
Booking.com uses surveys as well as sitewide and industry data to pinpoint what’s most important to travelers. For example, one study asked questions about happiness levels at different points during a vacation. The results showed that travelers hit their peak happiness levels on the first day they reach a destination.
The Journey of Holiday Happiness, a Booking.com graphic, shows that booking travel, the first day of a holiday, and seeing the accommodations registered three of the highest levels of happiness in a traveler’s journey. Unsurprisingly, withdrawing money for the trip and returning home were associated with the lowest levels of happiness.
Booking.com for Business, the site’s business-travel focused portal, also conducted research on how workers felt about traveling for work. It found that 30% of business travelers who responded said they would take a lower-paying job if it meant they could travel more for work.
All of this research allows Booking.com to understand what travelers need and what points in their journeys are the most critical. The company then uses that data to evaluate offerings, partnerships, and new features. Booking.com also relies on testing to make sure all of the aspects of its website are optimized for users.
“We conduct over 1,000 tests a day across all of our platforms,” Todd said. “This varies from changing the color of a button to adding an entirely new feature to the site.”
But the company goes beyond understanding customers and taking out friction points — it provides a variety of accommodation options so travelers can customize their vacations, no matter what their personal preference.
Providing a Variety of Lodging Options Around the World
By providing such a wide range of accommodation options, Booking.com helps global travelers select a trip that doesn’t just meet basic expectations, but will surprise and delight them upon arrival.
Even at a particular destination, the purpose of a visit can vary widely. For instance, if a couple decides to visit Hawaii, they may want a cheap hotel near downtown Honolulu because they plan on sightseeing all day and only use their room for showering and sleeping. Or they may want to book a cozy bed and breakfast to relax at all day, basking in ocean or mountain views from their balcony.
Someone traveling for work for a week may need an apartment to spread out in that is close to Honolulu’s business district. Booking.com caters to each of those needs with accommodations at more than a million properties in 227 countries.
The goal is to provide travelers with the lodging they want, and the company continues to expand its roster of lodging options with customer needs in mind. In fact, people who want to add their own properties to Booking.com’s accommodation list can fill out a quick registration form on its website.
Getting travelers to their destination is the priority, even if they don’t know where they want to go, and Booking.com can maximize any budget.
Inspiration and Deals Help Users Find a Destination and Save
When a user seeks to take a vacation hasn’t selected where to go, Booking.com provides an easy path to a decision through its Destination Inspiration portal. There, a traveler begins by selecting what is the most important aspect of the vacation: relaxation, scenery, food, shopping, or other activities, such as tennis.
From there, a user narrows the list down to a country, city, and, eventually, a particular property. For instance, if a traveler wants savory culinary options on a trip, Booking.com suggests Italy, France, and the United States as the three best countries for food. Selecting the US will bring up a list of cities, including New Orleans, Chicago, and San Francisco, that are highly endorsed by travelers for their food options. The choices get more personalized as the selection process continues, and a user can even book a restaurant reservation through Booking.com’s sister company, OpenTable, saving users time and eliminating a friction point.
Travelers can also use Booking.com’s deal section to search for the most cost-effective options for their destination. By selecting dates, the country, and city, Booking.com provides the best deal options available. For travelers who don’t have allegiance to a particular hotel, or any other specific preferences, waiting until the last minute to book can be an effective strategy when trying to secure a deal.
Weeks out, hotels and properties have little incentive to lower their rates, but as time goes by, many are willing to discount unfilled rooms, and those willing to wait can benefit. As with deals, Booking.com provides many different tools so that travelers all realize the same outcome: a happy journey.
Giving Travelers the Tools They Need to Book Confidently
From its beginnings as a site with 10 hotels in the Netherlands during the early days of internet hotel reservations to offering nearly 1.2 million accommodations, Booking.com has had quite the successful journey. It is currently one of the top booking sites in the multi-billion dollar online travel industry — The Priceline Group alone had $68.1 billion in bookings in 2016 — and Booking.com shows no signs of slowing down.
“Since joining The Priceline Group, we continue to grow but our culture remains the same around the world — an international DNA centered around the importance of data,” Todd told us. “Booking.com works well with the other Priceline Group brands, but part of the company culture at the group level is ensuring each brand operates independently, which has helped us maintain our own culture.”
Through research and development, Booking.com identifies and reacts quickly to consumer demand. That attention to detail, coupled with the ever-growing accommodation options, gives travelers a feeling of confidence when they book, leading to peak happiness when they arrive at their destination.
Booking.com continues to look to the future of travel and its increasingly mobile and spontaneous nature, which is why the site is constantly testing new ways to make booking faster and more organic. The company accomplishes that through research and maintaining a direct relationship with travelers.
The fact that Booking.com was able to scale up from an obscure Dutch startup to one of the most iconic names in online travel is a testament to how hard it works at making trips and vacations memorable for travelers of every kind.