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The tours and activities sector got some Earth-shattering news earlier this month when Booking Holdings announced it was acquiring experiences booking-software provider FareHarbor, likely one of the biggest deals in the space.
At Skift Forum Europe in Berlin on April 26, Booking.com CMO Pepijn Rijvers said he’ll start to experiment with FareHarbor in the coming months and will waste no time bringing the company into Booking’s fold.
Rijvers said Booking Holdings was attracted to FareHarbor’s depth in the United States, which already includes about 5,000 tours and activities providers. “If you look at this experiences space, from a technology standpoint this is a very immature segment still,” said Rijvers. “We think with this technology from FareHarbor we have a really well functioning platform.”
But when asked why Booking bought FareHarbor to scale up instead of a company like GetYourGuide with a wider reach, Rijvers said Booking doesn’t like the kind of value GetYourGuide creates for consumers. “We think there are better ways to create value,” he said.
“GetYourGuide probably needs to make immediate returns off of offering a museum ticket in Berlin whereas we can make it part of an integrated experience that might have completely different incentives,” said Rijvers. “And all of this technology with GetYourGuide is built towards monetizing the audience but that might not fit at all with how we want to fit it into the trip experience.”
GetYourGuide co-founder & chief operating officer, Tao Tao, who also spoke at Skift Forum Europe, said online travel agencies are a great business but haven’t been transformational for the company. “It’s not easy to take your existing customer base and funnel it into something else,” he said. “Booking.com is one of the European companies we really respect. One of the former CEOs of Booking is on our board. So we know Booking.com very well, that said we’re very confident in our abilities to execute.”
Tao, despite admitting that the company has had acquisition offers since it was founded in 2008, feels that it’s still early days for the company to sell and said GetYourGuide has only reached the tip of the iceberg with 2 to 3 percent market share. “We also believe we can execute faster on our own,” he said.
FareHarbor is a commission-based platform and doesn’t charge companies upfront fees to use it. “We really like that model as well and I don’t think we’ll make any changes to that, but who knows,” said Rijvers.
Becoming a One-Stop-Shop Brand
But Booking.com was already selling tours and activities in 40 cities before the FareHarbor deal, but only after someone had booked an accommodation on the platform.
“Our vision is that we want you to be able to book everything on Booking.com and that you shouldn’t have to have a hotel booking to do that,” said Rijvers. “This quarter we will start testing [stand-alone tours and activities bookings]. The reason why we started with the hotel booked audience is that it’s just easier from the demand side.”
Booking.com plans to heavily invest in tours and activities this year, said Rijvers. “But it still will be relatively small, of course, to our accommodations business that we’ve had for 20 years.”
“This is driven by the mobile device that allows us to start offering ancillary services and allow us to be more relevant to consumers more often,” said Rijvers. “That’s based on the hypothesis that in the end this will drive more loyalty and build a larger direct brand.”
Spending With Competitors
Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel recently told Skift that going forward the group doesn’t want to spend as many advertising dollars with competitors as it currently does. The company spent some $4.1 billion last year on performance-based advertising.
Rijvers said being independent is not that simple. “The travel industry does coopetition marketing,” he said. “Everyone meets each other and everyone would like to be completely on their own and independent. But that’s just not possible.”
Booking.com could up its spend with Google and other search engines, or Trivago, or TripAdvisor, but that’s not the preferred route, said Rijvers. “I’d love to be able to give that value to customers,” he said. “This is a segway to becoming a platform where you can book anything you want to do in destinations.
Still, Rijvers acknowledged that Booking.com depends heavily on Google and that the relationship between both companies remains warm.
“I’ll give the example of Google’s dynamic search ads which is a product we co-developed years ago because we wanted to scale keywords where there’s relevance and drive growth,” said Rijvers. “That’s the quality of the relationship we have with Google and that’s also the type of relationship we’re seeking with anyone in the marketing space.”
Booking.com is putting pressure on Trivago, which saw its stock price plummet 26 percent on the day it announced first quarter earnings because Booking.com has pulled back on its spend on Trivago. “Trivago’s brand advertising has inspired us to dig a little bit harder in that segment,” said Rijvers. “I will invest in anything where I can responsibly drive growth and metasearch certainly plays a part in this.
Rijvers, however, doesn’t give Trivago too much credit. He and his team constantly face decisions on where to direct ad spending as consumer behavior shifts and various platforms fall in and out of popularity.
“We’re fairly rational in how we invest whether it’s short-term growth, short-term profits or long-term growth, long-term profits,” said Rijvers. “And I don’t think that’s about Trivago at all. But certainly, we’ve been making changes in our marketing spend and approach and we do so all the time.”