Women In Travel
Taking the risk is worth the reward
They’re movers and shakers. Their contributions have changed and continue to change the nature of travel, both in Canada and around the world. In this week’s issue, Canadian Travel Press’ series of profiles on Women in Travel continues for the last instalment of 2017, featuring Booking.com’s CEO Gillian Tans.
Although Booking.com is now one of the largest travel e-commerce companies in the world, when Gillian Tans left a successful job in the hotel sector to join the Amsterdam-headquartered company, it was still in the start-up stages.
“I firmly believed that the Internet was going to disrupt the hotel industry,” she tells Canadian Travel Press of her decision to make the career switch. “While arguably a risky career move at the time, I have always been guided by curiosity, and I was intrigued by the potential I saw for the Internet to impact the marketing opportunity for hotels.”
Along the same lines, her top advice for women thinking of getting into the tech and travel industry is to take risks and not be afraid of failure.
“It can be a difficult step, but I hope women will take more risks and understand that failure often leads to growth,” says Tans, who stems from a background in the hotel industry as the product manager at Golden Tulip Hotels and the InterContinental Hotel Group.
As for her own mentors, she credits her parents for inspiring her to work hard and create opportunities for others through her successes.
“My mother is creative – she could build anything out of nothing – and I learned a lot about creativity and entrepreneurship from her,” she says. “From my father, I inherited a strong work ethic, something he instilled into our family early on.”
Leading by example
Today as the CEO of Booking.com, working in the fast-paced and rapidly evolving world of the Internet, she says no two days on the job are ever the same.
“I try not to plan my days to the minute, so I can be agile and ready for anything that might pop up,” says Tans. “When a company moves as fast as Booking.com does, you need to be ready to make decisions quickly and schedule your days efficiently.”
In her role, she finds it’s important for the company to have an open culture where people aren’t afraid to challenge each other and have fun.
“Creative ideas and innovation occur at every level of the organization, and we encourage a test-and-learn culture of entrepreneurialism,” she says. “I believe in the strength and power of the many and that great ideas are all around us, something I try to foster as CEO.”
Her favourite part of the job entails truly believing in the product and giving customers a wide variety of choices for places to stay around the world, so that they can have memorable travel experiences.
“The benefits of travel are endless – from spending time and creating memories with family and friends to getting out of comfort zones to relaxing and taking a moment for oneself – and much more,” she says. “I enjoy playing a part in helping bring joy to people through the power of travel.”
Trending in 2018
Looking ahead to 2018, she says the continued increase in wellness travel, group friend trips, consumers revisiting their favourite childhood destinations, and pop culture trips to destinations travellers have become familiar with through their favourite TV shows, movies and music videos, such as Croatia and Iceland, inspired by Game of Thrones, are among the top travel themes.
On the technology side, she feels the travel space will continue to innovate with even more people relying on smartphones and artificial intelligence to research, book and plan travel.
“Almost a third of global travellers are comfortable letting a computer plan an upcoming trip based on data from their previous travel history and half don’t mind if they deal with a real person or computer as long as their questions are answered,” she says. “We’ll continue to see growth in mobile, as over two in five bookings are now made on a mobile device on Booking.com. Travellers expect to be able to plan their holiday in a few simple taps of their smartphone.”
Inspiring the next generation
Earlier this year, the company, which has a global workforce with 150 different nationalities, more than half of which are women, launched the Women In Tech Mentor Programme to not only make Booking.com one of the most diverse and gender-balanced tech companies in the world, but also to develop programming that helps with diversity outside its walls.
“The fact is that women are under-represented in the tech industry, and one of the ways we can encourage more highly skilled women to join and excel in the tech industry is to support them and become mentors for them,” she says. “Positive female role models are vital for encouraging more women to advance their careers in the tech industry, and 90% of women working in non-tech roles indicated that seeing more women in leadership roles will inspire them to advance their career in tech. So, we’re just trying to do our part to help improve the situation and empower more women in tech.”
Some of the other ways the company is doing its part to increase female participation in technology is through scholarships and the launch of the Technology Playmaker Awards, which celebrate and recognize women at all stages of their career who have disrupted and continue to transform business, industries and communities through the use of technology.
“Booking.com feels strongly about rewarding the achievements of women in tech and that if the pipeline is stronger from the beginning, more women will be able to climb the tech ladder by seeing female leaders in the industry being recognized,” she says. “As I said, we still see women under-represented in tech, but it is getting better. You see figures from some of the biggest tech companies gradually improving over the years. While we are on the right track, there is still so much further to go. We need the tech industry to be even more diverse, and it’s the responsibility of these companies and leaders to help push for change.”
Being in a competitive industry and leading a company with the size and scale of Booking.com, also brings along some challenges.
“I’m an advocate of traditional customer-service values and keeping the customer at the centre of everything we do,” she says. “This means throwing away our egos and ideas of what we may think customers want, which can often be challenging.”
While they may want to offer one thing, if the customer wants another, she says they need to adapt it to meet their needs.
“The experimentation and testing we are doing in the areas of AI and machine learning, as it relates to customer service, are leading us to innovation that helps provide an even more seamless process than we already offer,” she says. “It’s challenging, but very exciting.”
As for the future, she says the company’s mission is to empower people to experience the world.
“We offer technology that can take our customers anywhere – whatever they want to do, wherever they want to go, they can book it through us,” she says. “In the future, we want to be able to say whether in your own neighbourhood or a city across the globe, our technology will be needed to break through barriers. Whether it’s time, money, languages or choice, Booking.com will continue to invest in technology now and in the future to further innovate our product and customer experience.”
Talking travel and success with
Where are you based? How often are you travelling for work?
I am based in our Amsterdam headquarters and travel about five times a month, visiting around 20 countries per year.
What’s your favourite place to travel to?
Two of my favourites are Asia and New York for the culture and cuisine.
What’s still on your bucket list?
There are still so many places in China that I’d like to visit. I think you could spend an entire lifetime exploring China and never be done due to how vast and diverse the country is with such natural beauty, bustling cities and amazing food. Exploring more of China is on my personal bucket list.
Share one of your favourite travel memories?
I was in the Maldives with my husband, and we went to an exclusive lobster restaurant in the middle of a beautiful reef. Before dinner, we put our toes in the water, and I slipped and fell in the water in front of the entire restaurant. More like my most embarrassing travel memories, but the dinner (after I changed) was amazing and the ambience was incredible.
What have been some of your most rewarding career moments to date?
The most rewarding moments are sometimes the big moments – like major milestones in our company’s growth, but also some of the smaller ones… like hearing a B&B owner in southern Italy talk about she couldn’t have a business without Booking.com That is what keeps me and our team of 15,000 plus people going every day.
What’s the secret to your success?
Booking.com has been so successful because we’ve been thinking and building on an international level from day one and put customers at the centre of everything we do. Our platform was built to accommodate multiple languages from the beginning, so that it could be used by a global audience. We also offer more diverse inventory than any other travel company in the world, with more than 30 categories – homes, apartments, villas, hotels, boats, even treehouses, and igloos.