Hundreds of the travel industry’s most-forward-thinking executives will gather for our second annual Skift Forum Europe in Berlin on April 26. In just a few years,  Skift's Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”

After last year's European tourism comeback, Skift Forum Europe 2018 will take place at Cafe Moskau in Berlin. The Forum will feature speakers, including CEOs and top executives from Ryanair, Thomas Cook, Booking.com, AccorHotels, Marriott, Google, and many more.

The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond.

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Pepijn Rijvers, who’s been chief marketing officer of Booking.com for three years, has a big problem — how will the company market 28 million reported listings of hotels, vacation rentals, apartments, guest houses and boats?

That’s likely more lodging listings than any booking site on earth. Rijvers spins the accommodations bonanza as giving himself “even more to talk about with our customers.”

The challenge is not to have a muddled message, and websites and apps that confuse time-pressed consumers with an over-abundance of options even as other businesses opt for a curated set of choices instead.

At the upcoming Skift Forum Europe in Berlin on April 26, Rijvers will talk about the battle to own the customer.

In a TV commercial, Booking.com touts its price guarantee “on all kinds of accommodations.” The Booking.com Watersports ad states” “But we can guarantee the best price on any hotel, like this one, or any home, boat, treehouse, yurt — whatever. We guarantee the best price on all kinds of accommodations.”



Rijvers downplays the complexities of marketing a plethora of different property types, and states that the real challenge is “land the right message to the right person at the right moment in time on the right channel.”

We had a chance to ask Rijvers a few questions related to his role as CMO of Booking.com.

Skift: Booking.com now has more than five million alternative accommodations listings. How does that complicate your marketing efforts?

Pepijn Rijvers: Actually, it doesn’t. Our mission is to empower people to experience the world. Having 5 million options in homes and apartments showcases the diversity of accommodation we provide on our platform. Achieving this milestone enforces we are the best one-stop-shop for accommodation. And this gives me even more to talk about with our customers. The challenge will always be landing the right message to the right person at the right moment in time on the right channel. We’re increasing the marketing communication around homes and apartments generally for Booking, and you’ll see more of that in the coming year.

Skift: Some people have told me that showing hotels and non-hotels together on Booking.com is confusing. Are you getting that feedback from customers and how are you handling it?

Rijvers: Absolutely not, and in fact the opposite. The strength of our platform is that you can find what you are looking for in one place no matter where you are in the search journey. We see frequently that people often book something other than what they initially searched for. By showing them everything it opens up choice and travel inspiration. And, as you know, we typically test everything we do in our store experience and this is not different.

Skift: Could you give us some new insights on how Booking’s distribution strategy is changing in 2018 in terms of emphasizing some channels over others?

Rijvers: Rapid evolutions in technology and the constant shift of customer expectations and behavior drive our distribution mix. We are constantly testing all available channels and platforms, and our investments follow the data that shows us what is working at any given time. And different channels have different success rates depending on the nature of the message, how and when it’s distributed, and myriad other factors.

We look at the data daily and even hourly and move very fast shifting in response to signals. So it’s really impossible for me to predict what the mix might be six or nine months from now. As a general rule, performance-based channels — like Search — are significantly larger than our brand advertising activities like TV. Given our data and performance culture, I think this will still be the case in the near future.

Skift: You are now offering attractions in about 40 cities but only after someone books a stay in that city. Why and how is that changing?

Rijvers: Yes, we’re looking at ways to be with our customers throughout their entire trip. So, for example, how can we help them when they’re trying to find something to do or when they want to find somewhere to eat. The fact that we are now in 40 cities where not too long ago we were in less than 20 shows a sign of us scaling up in this space. We only do this because we see positive signs of product-market fit. As you might know we offer a hassle-free pay-as-you-go experience with best prices and additional benefits like skip the line. We see customers like this model. On top of that we are also testing with pre-book as some attractions require this. Because we are just beginning to build what we believe will be the best product for booking experiences.

We will continue to look and test new technologies to take even more of the friction out of travel and are definitely interested in exploring ways to offer experiences without having to make an accommodation booking on our platform. Stay tuned!

Photo Credit: Booking.com CMO Pepijn Rijvers has to massage the company's marketing messages now that it boasts more than 5 million alternative lodging listings. Booking.com