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Hotels.com: US versus EU Travel Markets

Scott Booker
Former President at Hotels.com

Learning outcomes

  • The core differences in the structure of US and EU hotel supply
  • How the level of consolidation of hotels determined the strategy for online travel agents
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Executive Bio

Scott Booker

Former President at Hotels.com

Scott joined Hotels.com in 2003 when the company was a Dallas-based startup. He spent 5 years in product and customer marketing before moving to SVP where he was responsible for the global website and product development. In 2012, Scott was then promoted to President of Hotels.com with full P&L responsibility. Scott previously spent 3 years at Blockbuster as Senior Director of Strategic Marketing for Blockbuster Online, the incumbent competitor to Netflix, where he was competing directly with the now video streaming giant. Read more

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Interview Transcript

It’s so interesting how it all comes down to the consumer, as well, at some point. With Booking, this is a better consumer experience; they can pay when they actually go to the hotel and go to the room, rather than now. How do you feel about the differences between the US and Europe travel consumer and how that frames that strategy discussion?

It starts with the different suppliers in the US. In the US, it’s 65% to 70% chain oriented. Hilton, Marriott, IHG and so forth. In Europe and the rest of the world, that’s exactly flipped. It’s 65% to 70% independent. It’s just a different supplier mindset. You have to have boots on the ground, knocking on the doors, to go sign up all those individual mom-and-pop places, in Europe. We just weren’t prepared for that, from that standpoint.

It was a better consumer experience on the supplier side, to get that supply to begin with. Then when you look at it from a consumer perspective, it wasn’t such a bad thing in the US. Most consumers in the US were accustomed to being billed right up front. Everywhere else in the world, it was different. That just wasn’t the mindset, so it started with that. This is just a major lesson for us, at Expedia, over time, is that once we started opening up websites in Europe and other countries, where language was different from English, we didn’t put the time and effort into making it look and feel like a German site or look and feel like a site that was based out of Spain.

Honestly, we didn’t quite realize how important that was until we put a business in Europe and realized that the more we invested time in translating that content correctly and making sure the kinds of amenities that the tie ins are looking for, we have them on the site, all those intricate details, we realized how much conversion would improve, when we did that. It just wasn’t our mindset, until we moved a business there and felt it, day in, day out.

You’re absolutely right about that consumer mindset. The other thing is, when you are spending hundreds of millions of dollars, in digital marketing, particularly the Google, every basis point of conversion is critical. The more you can convert, the more you can spend on marketing. So we were at a disadvantage to Booking, for the longest time period, in conversion, because we hadn’t done those things that I just talked about, with translation and content. When I moved over there, we rebuilt the product team, we started really focusing on the details and got our conversion to a really high level and we could compete better at Google and be at the top of that sort order, when we needed to, in the auction.

You’re absolutely right. The consumer experience is super important.

How do you approach that? Let’s say, you come to Europe, how do you listen to the consumer? How do you actively put a team in place, listen to what the consumer may want, across Europe, for example?

The good thing about headquartering in London like we did is, we could find natives form Germany and Spain and Italy and all over Europe, living in London. We would, basically, hire a country manager or two, for each of those major markets. They would be our eyes and ears and research. They had all the understanding of the marketplace, that would then feed back into product, that would feed into how we upgrade our technology, from a front-end perspective, into marketing, all of that.

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