As the Booking.com vice president said, consumers do indeed have myriad choices in how to book hotels in Europe. But it is also true that Booking.com wields a lot of power when it comes to the prospects for the large swath of independent hotels in the region.
Skift Forum Europe
Skift Forum Europe was held in London, England on March 24, 2022. Find out about future Skift events through the link below.
Which company controls hotel distribution in Europe? Not us, said a Booking.com managing director, and actually “there is simply no gate to guard in hotel distribution.”
That’s the opinion of Carlo Olejniczak, a Booking.com vice president and the online travel agency’s managing director of Europe, Middle East and Africa, who will be interviewed on stage at Skift Forum Europe in London March 24. The “gate” reference pertained to the European Union’s proposed Digital Markets Act, which would designate and limit in some way large platforms that it deems as “gatekeepers” in their sectors.
In late 2020, European Union antitrust czar Margrethe Vestager mentioned Google, Amazon and Booking.com as potentially being Digital Markets Act targets. Booking.com, long viewed as the largest accommodations site in the world, rejects the label.
In a warmup for Skift Forum Europe, we asked Olejniczak via email about the Digital Markets Act, whether Booking.com’s best days are behind the company, and how he manages such disparate regions, namely Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The question and answer interview follows.
Skift: What’s the latest on the EU’s Digital Markets Act, and are there any new developments that give you confidence that Booking Holdings will not be categorized as a gatekeeper?
Carlo Olejniczak: With the “trilogue” negotiations under way, we’re also eagerly awaiting the outcome of those discussions and hope that there is a balance reached that recognizes not just fair regulation but also the right regulation. We’ve always believed that regulation shouldn’t be determined just by the size of a platform, but by focusing on the companies that monopolize access to consumers.
The options consumers have to search for and book an accommodation are vast. Equally there are numerous on- and offline channels that a hotel can market its room on, and we see this in practice in our own data; when market demand increases, hotels reduce the available room nights on our platform significantly. They have the choice to secure bookings elsewhere and can easily switch inventory across different distribution channels. In Europe, we account for about 13 percent of hotel revenues and there are more than 130 online travel sites in Europe competing for business. There simply is no gate to guard in hotel distribution; there are many ways for consumers and accommodations to find each other.
Skift: Do you think Booking.com’s best days are in the rearview mirror?
Olejniczak: No, absolutely not. We couldn’t possibly have predicted the pandemic, and of course this has had a significant impact on our business — as it has the rest of the industry, but navigating change and adapting accordingly is part of what makes us still one of the leading global marketplaces for travel. The same would be true without the challenges of the past two years. We’re constantly striving to harness new and emerging technologies to define how both customers and partners experience travel. Our industry remains incredibly competitive and we still see room for growth, and so while travel continues to be fundamental to peoples lives, we’ll continue to invest and innovate to fuel that desire.
Skift: Carlo, you handle widely disparate geographies, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. How does Booking.com’s approach differ region to region, and what are you seeing as far as a travel recovery in each geography?
Olejniczak: We’ve always operated with a uniquely international mindset that translates at local level, whether through the tools we build that are offered in over 40 languages to the teams of in-market experts who help scale our global operations to support both customers and partners throughout the regions. Having local teams in all key countries and destinations in the region (with 70+ local offices), understanding the culture and the local market specificities, is a key strength and helps us better serve our partners and customers globally. So rather than deploying disparate strategies across the region, we look intensely at what our data shows and what our customers and partners tell us, to then apply our global vision through the lens of those needs.
Recovery is mapping differently across the region and we’re still seeing a level of unpredictability to this course given the varying pace of vaccine rollouts, evolving border controls and other health and safety measures as well as resurgences of the virus. Our approach remains consistent; preparing for different scenarios and waiting for data and science to indicate what additional steps, if any, we should take. And throughout, this corresponds to how we’re supporting our accommodation partners to be ready for when demand returns and it’s safe to travel: laying the groundwork and investing in the right products and services that will drive long-term, incremental growth.
In equal measure, we’re tracking traveler needs and there is a real sense of optimism and hope for when they can get back out to experience the world; our recent research showed that 64 percent of surveyed travelers felt travel is more important to them now than it was before the pandemic. It will take time for travel to return to pre-COVID-19 levels, of course, but we’re making sure we do everything to ready our partners and customers for that moment.
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Photo credit: A file photo of the Fontevraud L’Hôtel, France.