Book­ing it bet­ter

Need a room in any part of the world? This could be the fu­ture

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By WU YIYAO in Shang­hai wuyiyao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Speak­ing four lan­guages and hav­ing trav­eled and worked around the world, Gil­lian Tans’ ex­pe­ri­ence points to her be­ing a savvy back­packer who has been dis­cov­er­ing the won­ders of be­ing “on the road”.

But Tans works beyond her own trav­el­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as the CEO of Nether­lands­based Book­ing.com, one of the big­gest on­line ac­com­mo­da­tions agen­cies by num­ber of rooms/nights booked, a po­si­tion she was ap­pointed to in April 2016.

Mar­ried to a na­tive of Hong Kong and a big fan of home­made Can­tonese food, Tans now leads a team op­er­at­ing in 225 coun­tries and re­gions who help tourists have bet­ter and safer stays— and with more fun.

Re­main­ing in­no­va­tive, aim­ing to break bar­ri­ers for trav­el­ers dur­ing their trips, is key to Book­ing.com’s strat­egy to ex­pand, said Tans.

The fol­low­ing are edited ex­cerpts of her re­cent in­ter­view with China Daily.

How do you de­scribe Book­ing.com’s busi­ness in China? What strate­gies will you adopt to ex­pand your busi­ness in China as the new CEO?

In short, Book­ing.com’s busi­ness in China is ex­cit­ing, grow­ing fast and full of po­ten­tial. We want to play a big­ger role in in­spir­ing Chi­nese trav­el­ers with in­cred­i­ble stays, not only in China, but in ev­ery cor­ner of the world. In the­ory, our strat­egy for the Chi­nese mar­ket is ac­tu­ally quite sim­ple and in many­ways matches our over­all global strat­egy. We lis­ten and learn from our cus­tomers. For ex­am­ple, mo­bile pay­ments are re­ally com­mon in China due to the pop­u­lar­ity of plat­forms like WeChat — and that’s some­thing we’re learn­ing from and adapt­ing to quickly.

Chi­nese con­sumers are get­ting more savvy and ex­posed to more chan­nels than ever be­fore. How will you meet the chang­ing tastes and de­mand of Chi­nese trav­el­ers?

Chi­nese cus­tomers are start­ing to de­mand more choice. This is great news for us, be­cause that’s ac­tu­ally our spe­cialty at Book­ing.com. We have nearly a mil­lion dif­fer­ent types of ac­com­mo­da­tion that in­cludes ev­ery­thing, from beach­front holiday homes to tree­houses, boats, and even lux­ury tents.

Find­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion is about find­ing the stay that also con­nects you to the things you love do­ing. Whether that’s ski­ing, cas­tles or gourmet food, just type it into the search box at our Pas­sion Search plat­form and we’ll pro­vide you with an awe­some list of des­ti­na­tions that are per­fect for ex­plor­ing fur­ther.

What’re the op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges for Book­ing.com in China?

With­out a doubt, China is one of the most im­por­tant mar­kets for Book­ing.com. It is a big op­por­tu­nity for us to bring more in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers to visit the coun­try, and there is an even larger op­por­tu­nity for us to serve the mas­sive num­bers of in­creas­ingly in­de­pen­dent Chi­nese con­sumers who want to travel more and explore as much of the world as pos­si­ble. This is an op­por­tu­nity and a chal­lenge, as Chi­nese con­sumer habits and prod­uct de­sign are quite unique. Prod­uct lo­cal­iza­tion has been a pri­mary fo­cus for us since we first ar­rived in China.

What’s your com­pet­i­tive edge with ri­vals in China?

In con­trast with some of our com­peti­tors in China, we stand out in terms of our global reach and of­fer­ing. Book­ing.com of­fers more than 978,000 ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions in 224 coun­tries and re­gions world­wide.

For our Chi­nese ac­com­mo­da­tion part­ners, our global pres­ence en­ables us to con­nect them with large num­bers of in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers.

We use tech­nolo­gies to break lan­guage bar­ri­ers. Imag­ine you’re trav­el­ing to Paris and need to tell the prop­erty you’re go­ing to be late. Don’t speak French? No wor­ries! Sim­ply type to them in Chi­nese and they’ll re­ceive the mes­sage in French through our app so­lu­tions. You’ll also re­ceive their re­sponse in Chi­nese. It’s al­most like magic.

How do you work with Ctrip? Do you share prop­er­ties on your sites?

Our par­ent com­pany, the (US) Price­line Group, is one of the largest share­hold­ers in Ctrip.com In­ter­na­tional Ltd, hav­ing first in­vested in the com­pany in 2012. The ini­tial in­vest­ment and com­mer­cial re­la­tion­ship ex­panded in 2014, and again in 2015. Through this strate­gic part­ner­ship, Book­ing.com lists Ctrip’s in­ven­tory of ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions in China. In re­turn, Ctrip is also able to of­fer its users a wider ar­ray of deals from Book­ing.com’s plat­form. It is an in­te­gral part of our long-term growth strat­egy to work with a lead­ing on­line travel com­pany in China and we ex­pect this re­la­tion­ship to con­tinue to bring value for both of com­pa­nies — and our cus­tomers — for many years.

How can Chi­nese trav­el­ers make bet­ter use of Book­ing.com?

The best tip I have for Chi­nese con­sumers is to read re­views from other trav­el­ers. On Book­ing.com, we have more than 98 mil­lion re­views from real guests who’ve ac­tu­ally stayed at each ac­com­mo­da­tion, in­clud­ing mil­lions of re­views from Chi­nese trav­el­ers. I use them a lot to find out what other peo­ple have ex­pe­ri­enced and to spark my imag­i­na­tion. You can read what it was like for some­one else to trek over the tun­dra to an igloo in Fin­land to check out the North­ern Lights, or to sleep in a tree­house at an eco-re­sort in the rain­for­est in Belize.

What are the places in China you’d like to take in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers to? And what are the places in the world you’d like to take Chi­nese trav­el­ers to?

China is an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar coun­try to visit in the world. But it is also in­cred­i­bly vast and di­verse, with in­cred­i­ble nat­u­ral beauty, large bustling cities and amaz­ing food. In terms of my goals for in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers, I’d like to help inspire them to explore fur­ther and dis­cover some of the more re­mote des­ti­na­tions in China. This is also onmy own per­sonal travel bucket list. I re­ally think you could spend an en­tire life­time ex­plor­ing China and never be done.

What’s your man­age­ment style like? Your mantra?

My man­age­ment style is all about em­pow­er­ment. At Book­ing.com, we have al­ways been proud of the fact that we put de­ci­sion­mak­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in the hands of ev­ery em­ployee. That has al­ways been our se­cret to stay­ing ag­ile and flex­i­ble. Fur­ther­more, we have a very open cul­ture at Book­ing.com. I like to sit out on the floor with ev­ery­one else so ev­ery­one can ap­proach with an idea or a ques­tion. The best ad­vice I ever re­ceived was to not let suc­cess go tomy head or for fail­ures to get tomy heart.

How do you jug­gle be­tween work and fam­ily?

Be­ing CEO of any large com­pany is all about pri­or­i­ti­za­tion. It’s an art and it def­i­nitely takes prac­tice. What I have learned is that I need to be present and re­ally in the mo­ment wher­ever I am. I make sure that the time I’m ded­i­cat­ing to my kids or my hus­band or my friends or to any im­por­tant project at work is al­ways of qual­ity. I have a bunch of What­sApp groups set up with my friends to stay in con­tact as I bounce all over the world for work.

What travel apps do you use?

Ob­vi­ously as the CEO of Book­ing.com, I ama big fan of our app and use it all the time to book my stays, whether I’m trav­el­ing for work or in my pri­vate life. It’s easy, re­li­able and gives me the choice and flex­i­bil­ity I need. I’m also ad­dicted to Uber. I use it ev­ery­where I go. GoogleMaps is very handy and I use it all the time.

What sort of ac­com­mo­da­tion do you pre­fer when you travel to China? Have you ever made com­plaints?

Most of the time when I’m trav­el­ing to China for busi­ness, I end up stay­ing at ho­tels that are close to our lo­cal teams or wher­ever I’m hav­ing meet­ings. So for me, I would say it’s more about lo­ca­tion than it is about a cer­tain type of ac­com­mo­da­tion. I’m a pretty low-main­te­nance trav­eler, so I don’t re­ally com­plain a lot. That be­ing said, my ab­so­lute big­gest pet peeve is hav­ing to pay for Wi-Fi at a ho­tel and then find­ing out that the qual­ity is not good. Hav­ing to strug­gle with a weak or wildly in­con­sis­tent sig­nal is like tor­ture for me.

What’s your fa­vorite Chi­nese food?

I love Chi­nese food... my whole fam­ily does in fact. When­ever we have a big cel­e­bra­tion or some­one asks me what I want to have for my birth­day din­ner, I al­ways know the an­swer — tra­di­tional Can­tonese food made by my mother-in-law. She’s an amaz­ing cook and pre­pares dishes that you can’t get in any restau­rant, at least not in the Nether­lands. I could never pick a fa­vorite, be­cause I re­ally do just love it all. I’m get­ting hun­gry just think­ing about it!

Do you cy­cle in China?

I haven’t rid­den a bike in China yet, but it’s some­thing I’d re­ally love to do. Although I think I would ap­pre­ci­ate a crash course — no pun in­tended— in the rules for cy­cling in China be­fore I just jump on a bike and go. In fact, I’m go­ing to add that tomy to-do list for the next time I’m here.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Gil­lian Tans, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Book­ing.com.

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