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Hundreds of the travel industry’s most forward-thinking executives will gather for our first Skift Forum Asia in Singapore on May 27. 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.”
Focusing on top marketers, strategists, and technologists in the APAC region who are defining the future of travel, Skift Forum Asia 2019 will take place at Equarius Hotel in Singapore.The Forum will feature speakers including CEOs and top executives from AirAsia, Booking.com, Genting Cruise Lines, Jumeirah, Oyo, Rakuten, and many more. The following is part of a series of posts highlighting the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Asia and beyond.
Booking Holdings has been fairly agnostic and opportunistic about its investments in China, taking minority stakes in rivals Ctrip and Meituan, for example, and entering into technology partnerships with competitors Alibaba and Tencent.
Marsha Ma, Booking.com vice president and managing director, China, knows that getting involved with these key players, as well as forging partnerships on the local level, are potentially winning strategies in the country.
“We will keep making efforts in developing and optimizing our own technical skills and products alongside these partnerships with local partners, including creating a more scientific measurement system with Tencent, improving our localized products with AliCloud, etc.,” Ma said in an email question-and-answer interview with Skift as a prelude to appearing at the inaugural Skift Forum Asia in Singapore on May 27.
Ma will be on a panel with Yoshiyuki Takano, Rakuten’s head of travel, and Greg Schulze, Expedia Group’s senior vice president of commercial strategy and services. The trio will discuss online travel agency competition in Asia.
Following is our interview with Marsha Ma of Booking.com.
Skift: How have your partnerships in Asia, whether it is with Ctrip, Meituan, or Grab, impacted Booking.com’s technology path? Is it a two-way street: How has Booking.com’s technology learnings impacted partners?
Marsha Ma: Technology is one of the key drivers of economic growth today, and it certainly plays a critical role within the travel industry at every phase of the customer journey. The partnerships under the investments from Booking Holdings have created opportunities for all of these companies to fully utilize and integrate each other’s technology assets to create a better overall travel ecosystem.
Whether it’s Booking’s expertise in digital marketing and machine-learning personalization or Grab’s mobile-based payment and e-commerce technology, by partnering we can all leverage these skills to benefit a wider array of travelers around the world.
We will keep making efforts in developing and optimizing our own technical skills and products alongside these partnerships with local partners, including creating a more scientific measurement system with Tencent, improving our localized products with AliCloud, etc.
Skift: What is your go-to market strategy in Asia, when the countries are so different? Are there any common denominators in your approach?
Ma: In all markets where we operate, Booking.com makes every effort to understand our users’ preferences and habits, with the help of our powerful database and technology plus local teams on the ground, and to tailor our product and services accordingly.
Especially in China, we are ramping localization efforts by building out our local teams with people who know the market well, testing and innovating quickly, and localizing products and services to adapt to Chinese consumer behaviors. We are also keen on establishing strong relationships with local companies from diverse industries to continue to learn and understand more from them.
Skift: In China, you’ve invested in Didi and Meituan, both of which do ridesharing. What are the synergies you see between ridesharing and travel booking, such as hotels, and how does this impact Booking.com?
Ma: There are lots of opportunities for Booking.com to start thinking about transportation, with ridesharing being an important part of consumers’ trips. As far as we know, a large part of their customers’ usage scenarios is for travel, including destinations for accommodations.
We believe that ridesharing is an important part of our strategy, to provide the one-stop and seamless travel experience for our customer.
Skift: How has Booking.com’s presence in China evolved over the last few years, and what’s your vision there for the future?
Ma: After entering the China market nearly nine years ago, we have realized how important hyper-localization is. So we have continued to build out local teams which test new localized product and marketing strategies that have improved the user experience for Chinese consumers. It’s been a continuous, iterative process, and we always think that the long-term dedicated efforts can build us the best brand and continued Chinese adoption of Booking.
We will keep innovating with cutting-edge technologies like AI, machine learning, innovative mobile payment solutions, and more to bring value, unleash productivity, and drive further consumer adoption.
With a mission to empower people to experience the world, we will keep investing in digital technology that helps take the friction out of travel and connect travelers with every incredible places in the world.