Think about the last trip you booked. You likely visited a website or opened an app on your phone, typed in your desired dates and location, maybe added in some preferences, and clicked a button. Almost instantaneously, you received a list of relevant choices, ranked and prioritized to make it even easier for you to quickly decide and book your trip.
It’s easy to forget how far the travel industry has come in the last three decades. Booking.com has been leading this transformation by focusing on innovation and a constant desire to make travel better. With 17,500 employees in 198 countries all over the world—who help to facilitate more than 1.6 million room nights booked per day—Booking.com is far more than just a website. It’s setting the standard for what tomorrow’s travel platform will be.
Rooted in Tech From the Beginning
Just 25 years ago, world travel was like something from another universe. Needed to catch a flight or book a hotel? Most people had to go through a travel agency to understand their options, and where you ended up depended a lot on chance—especially when traveling to new places.
That was a problem Geert-Jan Bruinsma aimed to solve with technology in Amsterdam back in the 1990s.
“He was trying to think of use cases for a new faxing software because he’s a software developer,” says Erin Weigel, a principal designer with Booking.com. “People were driving somewhere, looking up hotels in the phone book, or looking at signs at exits. There was no autonomous, easy way for travelers to be aware of where they were going to stay, or what the quality and the price were, without a ton of hassle and work.”
So Bruinsma built the first iteration of Booking.com to be a digital travel agent using his faxing software to communicate customer bookings to hotels.
“It started in Amsterdam and then he slowly started to expand to build a large inventory of hotel rooms,” Weigel says. “It solved a need in the market to aggregate all of these properties into one place.”
Big Enough to Be Local Everywhere
Today, “all of these properties” includes over 29 million listings for places to stay worldwide, which include apartments, vacation homes, bed and breakfasts, hotels, luxury resorts, and even some offbeat locations like treehouses.
“If you can sleep there, we want it on our platform,” Weigel says. “We offer more properties with a wider selection than any other company even comes close to.”
But Booking.com isn’t only interested in quantity, but quality. With an overarching goal of removing all barriers to a seamless travel experience, Booking.com supports its enormous global reach with customer support in more than 70 countries, speaking more than 40 languages 24 hours a day.
And to supercharge that localized customer service, Booking.com innovated again with Lingo, an internal tool for managing copy translations. And it has no small job: Thanks to Booking.com’s size and reach, the company is the world’s largest translator of content.
Building an Experimental Environment
Innovation has been at the core of everything Booking.com does, from internal tools that keep the company’s 17,000 employees across the world working together efficiently to customer-facing features that are revolutionizing the way people travel, like the Booking Assistant.
The Booking Assistant is a chatbot that automatically responds to customer questions on a number of platforms, including Facebook messenger, Booking.com itself, and the Booking.com app. If the Booking Assistant can’t answer the question, the customer is then forwarded on to the hotel or Booking.com staff for more help—but if it can, it makes life easier and more efficient for everyone involved.
“The Booking Assistant leads the industry,” says Booking.com product manager Ellora Nath. “We operate in an industry that is incredibly personal, emotional, and complex. Maintaining the right balance between genuine human interaction and efficient automation is something we’re always trying to fine-tune.”
Tools like the Booking Assistant—which launched in 2017 in English and is now available globally in 12 languages—are a product of Booking.com’s unique work environment, which gives employees the encouragement and freedom to experiment and innovate.
“I feel like I’m constantly challenged in a positive way,” Weigel says. “I never have a boring day working at Booking.com. We rely pretty heavily on an experimentation culture, and we invest in finding new and innovative ways to solve customer problems.”
Looking into the future, that means an increased focus on using machine learning to create more personalized recommendations for customers and service their needs at every point along their trip, from planning the trip to standing at the airport, needing a cab.
“This is a company built for travelers, by travelers—so we are very invested in the pain points we tackle on behalf of our customers.” Nath says. “Our mission is to provide assistance that feels like magic.”