As the opening CEO Talk at TravelDaily’s annual gathering in Shanghai, China, Priceline Group’s CEO set the tone for an event focused on the current state – and future growth – of this country’s travel industry.
On home-sharing and Airbnb
Airbnb is a very good company and it’s growing nicely. Congratulations to them. But when I go to booking.com, I could see apartments and hotels in the same search results. So it’s much easier for me to compare. And every single product on booking.com is instantly bookable. That’s a great thing.
For me, one of the things I want is speed. I don’t want to wait. My wife went to look at a competitor site, sent off some emails, and then a couple days later, comes back saying that I can’t rent this to you. So that’s so annoying!
The last thing is, we don’t charge the traveler any fee. Some of our competitors charge fees. We don’t charge a fee.
From my point of view, these home, villas, and apartments are an important part of our industry. It’s growing very very fast. And we’re spending a lot of time, energy, and effort to make sure we are as good in that area as in traditional hotel booking.
On localization in China
China is a very challenging to do business, particularly for people that aren’t Chinese.
One of the things we recognized at a very early stage is the importance of localization. If it’s a non-Chinese company that comes into China and tries to do business here, but they don’t understand the culture, they don’t understand the regulations, they don’t understand the way things are supposed to be done. They aren’t going to be successful.
So what we’ve been trying to do, is trying to make our companies, we are trying to make sure that we are as Chinese as possible.
Most important, especially here in China, is one of the reasons why we’re becoming more successful: you have to localize. We have three customer service centers in China. We’re approaching 1,000 employees in China.
If you are a Chinese customer going outbound, and you’re booking a hotel, you want to make sure that, if there’s a problem, there will be someone there for you who speaks Chinese.
Most hotels, they cannot afford someone who speaks Chinese 24/7. They’re not going to do it. Are their websites all in Chinese? Do they understand the payment processes? If you want to pay through Alipay, or eventually WeChat, are these hotels set up for that?
That’s why places like Booking.com and Agoda are successful. It’s very hard for more hotels around the world to reach customers around the world. Locally, sure. They can do a good job of trying to acquire someone in their local environment than they can internationally. Overall, I think we are providing better service.
If we want to be successful in China, we have to combine services to the Chinese customer that are no different than what a local customer does. If you go on WeChat and can’t buy a hotel from Agoda like you can buy any other hotel, then the customer is not going to come to us.
We have to do it the same that they are doing. With every single new development, we have to make sure we are as localized as possible.
We have to develop great relationships with these giant companies. And that is something that everyone says, but it is not easy to do. You have to develop a friendship, an understanding, a long-term vision, together.
That’s something a lot of people in the West have not done a good job — understanding that, in China, the long-term is very important. You’re not a friend for a day, you’re a friend for a long time.
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