HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel said that the customer-service benefits promised in the so-called "connected trip" - using technology to pull together a complete vacation in one booking - would encourage users to come directly to Booking and be a hedge against competitors like Google.
"The best way to make sure we have a [strong] future is to get people to come to us direct," he during an on-stage interview at the Phocuswright Conference. "And the way to get them to come direct and keep coming back is to provide the best service you can, really give somebody something that's differentiated. And that's why we keep pushing this connected trip."
He added: "Yes, you have to have great price, you have to provide value, but you want to add more. As the biggest player in the space, we have the resources, we have the capital, the engineers, the technologists, the AI specialists. Use that technology, really create something. And we can afford to do it."
In the connected-trip concept, a flight and reservation for six, for example, would prompt Booking to offer a minivan for transportation, attractions/tours and restaurant reservations from OpenTable.
And a flight delay would set off a cascade of changes: an alteration in the car pickup and restaurant reservation. If a later reservation can't be obtained, the customer would be offered choices of other restaurants.
"So when we're sitting here next year talking about the progress of the connected trip,” Phocuswright senior analyst Lorraine Sileo asked, "what would you say?"
"I'd say, we’re continuing to make progress," Fogel said.
Fogel also talked about creating a merchandising ability for suppliers to put in offers. If a restaurant or attraction needs to stoke more demand, they can directly add a discount rate. "It's early days, but I like what I see," he said.
Of Booking's 28 million accommodations listings, Fogel said, 6.2 million were in the home and apartment rentals category. Home rentals and hotels are in the same search result. "People who come to our site thinking they want one type of accommodation end up buying another," Fogel observed. "It's a very powerful effect."
Technology could help in another, old-as-time problem in the hotel industry: Overbooking. Fogel used a portion of his time on stage telling his story of how the conference hotel, the Diplomat Beach Resort, tried to "walk" him to another hotel because the Diplomat was full. When he was checking in late in the evening, the clerk told Fogel the hotel had one room left and it was for Google managing director of travel Rob Torres, who happened to be checking in at the same time.
As it turned out, Fogel conveyed his displeasure to a manager, who ended up informing Fogel there was a room for him after all. But Fogel was mystified why a hotel would infuriate a paying guest.
Fogel suggested a simple solution would be for the hotel to text or call travelers about an overbooking situation before guests show up at the desk, and offer compensation for their trouble. "It's not that hard," he said.
After his anecdote, Fogel turned the discussion directly to resort fees: "You go through the whole funnel and there’s a resort fee at the end of the darn thing," he said.
Fogel said that government regulations could level the playing field and meet consumers' expectations for a fair price. As an example, he pointed to "clear" rules about the display of airfare, taxes and fees.
He added that the resort fees cut back on agent commissions because the hotel pays on the room rate, not on the extra fee."That's completely backwards."
"I'd like to see industry just do the right thing," he said.