Whether it's payments or overtourism, Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel has a lot to say about — and a lot of influence over — the future of travel. His views, you'll see, aren't always politically correct.
Travel's most forward-thinking insiders will gather September 18–19 for our annual Skift Global Forum in New York. 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.”
Skift Global Forum 2019 will take place at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York. This year's Forum speakers include CEOs and top executives from Booking Holdings, Delta Air Lines, Expedia, Air France-KLM, Marriott International, Amtrak, and many more.
Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel has been a strong advocate for developing and using a multitude of payment systems for travelers, especially in geographies outside the United States where credit cards are not the go-to currency.
As a prelude to Fogel’s appearance at Skift Global Forum in New York City on September 18, we asked him his views on payment systems, overtourism, his new role in assuming the CEO position at Booking.com, and the future of travel in terms of a more connected experience.
Fogel doesn’t believe private companies should take in the role of trying to solve overtourism. “It’s also not our job to tell travelers where to go, but we believe it is our job to ensure that travelers have the most options to choose where they want to go,” Fogel said.
See Fogel’s answers in detail in the following Q&A:
Skift: Now that Booking Holdings got involved with Libra cryptocurrency, and you are developing or working on new payment systems, what do you think is the future direction of payment systems in travel?
Glenn Fogel: It needs to be seamless. I say this often, but the process is still too complicated. In order to progress forward, information security must be prioritized. The most advanced payment technologies and solutions can be built, but if the public is not convinced that their information is safe and protected, we’re just pedaling backwards.
I do envision a future where payments are primarily completed through your phone (and the technology here is going to continue to advance), and cash will become rare. You can already make payments through your phone by using your fingerprints, or scan your phone at a counter — but the process is still very fragmented.
I also do see the potential for a new form of global currency that is protected and secure. When Bitcoin became well known, many questioned its legitimacy, and while the jury is still out on the future of Bitcoin, I do believe currencies with a blockchain base will continue to surface and may become more widely accepted across the globe, especially outside the U.S., which has a well-accepted credit card payment system.
Skift: We are seeing the development of superapps, including candidates like Grab and Meituan, both of which Booking Holdings is investing in. And Booking.com is headed in the full-service — I know you hate that phrase — direction. So does Booking.com have a superapp strategy, and how do you see these multiservice apps heading into the future?
Fogel: You’ve heard me speak about the Connected Trip, and this is really how I prefer to think about this strategy. We want to facilitate a complete end-to-end experience platform for not just travelers, but for anyone looking for an experience. This is our mission: helping people to experience the world. The world is at your fingertips, but it’s still too complicated to experience. Technology has the ability to do this so we need to build it all in one place. Payments are a great example. We are working to build the payment infrastructure for any payment type: credit card, WeChat Pay, Alipay, etc., into our technology so that anyone anywhere can purchase a hotel or any experience anywhere in the payment method they already use, without having to worry if the supplier will accept that form of payment.
Each one of our brands provides unique offerings to customers. There is an incredible opportunity to leverage these brands to better the experience for our customers, and the efforts that have been made over the last year including using OpenTable dining points to book hotels on Kayak or flights on Booking.com, have shown we can do this. I’m more optimistic than ever about the opportunity ahead to bring the Connected Trip together across our brands.
Skift: You’ve taken over the leadership of Booking.com. What are the challenges for you personally in holding both CEO roles at Booking Holdings and Booking.com given that most of your experience has been on the strategy rather than the operational side of business?
Fogel: I’ve worked closely with all of our brands throughout my 19-plus years with the company. Other than more meetings on my calendar and more time spent on a plane, my priorities still remain the same. And remember, this is a structure we have had in the past that worked well for the company.
Skift: Amsterdam, the headquarters of Booking.com, gets pretty damn crowded in the summer. Should you limit the number of travelers you send to Amsterdam and other overtouristed destinations as a responsible travel company?
Fogel: There is no doubt that overtourism is a concern, and we do not take it lightly, but it’s not up to private companies to regulate cities. It’s up to the city officials and governments to determine the right steps/rules/legislation to benefit their city. And then we will comply with any of those rules or laws that are set. We have great relationships with [the] city of Amsterdam, and we are in active discussions on many fronts to bring our point of view to the table to help them solve the issues they face in the city. It’s also not our job to tell travelers where to go, but we believe it is our job to ensure that travelers have the most options to choose where they want to go.
Last year, when Cape Town was nearing Day Zero, there were plenty of people saying that travelers should not visit Cape Town as a result of the impending crisis. However, Sisa Ntshona, chief executive of South African Tourism, suggested otherwise and stated that tourists can potentially be part of the solution. Limiting travelers limits income and opportunities for those who do operate in the tourism industry. However, there’s an opportunity to raise awareness to these concerns in cities across the world so that travelers can become part of the solution.
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Photo credit: Glenn Fogel of Booking Holdings believes that new payment systems will go a long way in developing a more seamless travel experience. Pictured is Fogel at Fortune Brainstorm Tech. Fortune Brainstorm Tech / Flickr.com