By Alissa Warne (Sept ’18 IMBA)

Last month, I had the privilege of meeting with Angel Llus Mancas, VP, and Managing Director APAC at Booking.com in Singapore. Along with a group of September MBA candidates, we visited the Booking offices as part of our tech career trek to find out more about their e-commerce strategies in Asia-Pacific and the travel industry.

With gross travel bookings of more than US$92 billion in 2018, Booking.com has grown from a Dutch startup founded 23 years ago in Amsterdam to the second-largest travel e-commerce company in the world. Now, the travel conglomerate has more than 17,000 employees in 198 offices worldwide, experiencing double-digit growth year-on-year.

However, it wasn’t until we gathered in Booking’s boardroom office on the 30th floor overlooking Marina Bay that we realized how big they were – every day, more than 1.5 million room nights are booked on their platform across more than 28 million listings in 150,000 destinations, with millions spent on SEM each week.

I caught up with Angel to ask him about Booking’s secrets to success, as well as his personal journey from CEO of a Spanish hotel chain to IE Business School, to Booking.com, where he has been for the past seven years.

As the former CEO of a hotel chain, how does it feel being on the other side of the business?
Having experience in hospitality is very useful as it helps me understand the hotelier’s point of view. As a hotelier, I knew firsthand how difficult and expensive it was to attract new customers to the property, simply because of a lack of awareness. Having a platform like Booking helped with acquiring customers who otherwise would be extremely tough or impossible to obtain.

What is Booking’s competitive advantage when it comes to travel reservations?
Our global network of local offices that understand the markets they operate in, enable us to generate traffic and demand effectively through performance channels, particularly our extensive investment in A/B testing. Our customer service is in-house, controlling our operations and ensuring that the service delivered to the customer complies with our high standards. We also decided to be an agency that collects a commission on rooms booked on our platform, rather than a merchant buying rooms and reselling them. Neither approach is right or wrong, but we believe in giving accommodation providers control on prices that they want to deliver to the customer.

You’re in APAC and Booking headquarters are in Amsterdam. How do you ensure teams collaborate effectively?
We have frameworks in place to ensure that products developed in HQ make sense for the regions, in particular, to facilitate a corporate understanding and buy-in of local initiatives in APAC. Our priority is to maintain clear communication and feedback channels. Once you have that, and once you speak the same language in the regions and at HQ, it comes down to a matter of execution and follow-up.

IE is known for entrepreneurship, and many students join startups or start their own business. What advice do you have for those wanting to enter the travel eCommerce industry – any risks they should know about?
Travel eCommerce is one of the most dynamic sectors with a considerable potential for growth – I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to seize this opportunity (of course, I am biased!). My advice for those thinking about starting their own business? Be extremely clear about the problem you want to solve for the traveler. There are plenty of them! Focus all your energy on that particular piece of the “customer journey” and then expand from there.

What tips do you have for them to succeed in a highly competitive industry?
Always be customer first and make sure that the problem you are going to solve and the value that you will add to the customer is present. Secondly, you should be able to generate demand and aim for the biggest customer opportunity as opposed to focusing on a niche. Demand generation would be where I’d focus the majority of my resources and innovation efforts, especially at the beginning. And think mobile-first or even mobile only!

What is the best part of your day?
I am obsessed with delivering results and driving people to the next level. So while achieving the business goals is why we are here, the “how” is also important to me. Therefore, being able to lead multicultural and diverse teams, inspiring them to become better, faster, stronger as a team – as well as helping them to develop as individuals – is something that excites me.

What is the best piece of advice you received?
Every single day in your career, no matter what, no matter where, no matter how, always “Work hard, stay humble and stay hungry.”