We caught up with Eric Bergaglia, global head of Booking.com’s homes and apartments business, to hear about pandemic trends that are here to stay and what’s ahead for the online travel platform’s fastest growing segments.
Vacation rentals are lauded as one of the big winners in travel right now. What have you seen at Booking.com?
It is no secret that we see more and more travelers are exploring short-term rentals, accelerating a trend we have seen for a while. We saw that 32% of our newly-booked room nights were in short-term rentals in the second quarter. In June, we reached 2019 levels of room night growth. What’s more, in the second quarter of 2021, we saw the first sequential increase in the number of vacation rental properties on Booking.com.
We believe the trend towards higher intent for alternative accommodations will continue into 2022, but there are still always going to be travelers who will choose traditional hotels, and opportunities to deliver amazing guest experiences exist for the entire industry. We’re the platform that has always had the most diversity of accommodation and we’ll continue to make sure that whatever travelers need, we’ll be there for them.
There has been a lot of talk about digital nomads, longer stays, and flexibility as key trends over the past year. How has Booking.com adjusted to address these changes in behaviors?
Customer behavior has changed over the last year, but that doesn’t stop once we get vaccinated. Consumer expectations and demand will continue to evolve, and we will have to innovate along the way. Longer stays (including travelers working from anywhere) and flexibility have become more than trends—they are here to stay, and we’ve continued to adapt our products and services to ensure we’re catering to these sustained consumer preferences.
Longer stays is an area we’re very excited about. For travelers looking for longer stays at vacation rental properties, Booking.com launched this summer extended stays beyond 30-nights in the U.S., Spain, the U.K., and more, with special rates both weekly and monthly. Booking.com is committed to continuously enhancing vacation rental offerings for consumers, with the option for guests to book and stay up to 45 nights implemented this past July, making it easier for travelers to find the perfect place for a longer stay.
We also know it will continue to be important for accommodation providers to embrace flexible policies and clearly communicate with guests about them to help give travelers comfort in making bookings. This has long been a priority for us at Booking.com, so many of our partners have done this for quite some time. But we also made implementing changes easier and developed clear guidance on how partners can balance revenue security and flexibility with the right mix of policies.
What is Booking.com doing to drive more awareness and demand for vacation rentals on the platform? What are some recent marketing efforts?
We’re always striving to market our properties to audiences all over the world. To give an example, in the U.S. market, we recently launched our “endless summer” campaign to support Americans invigorated appetite to travel and fuel support for properties and destinations on the industry recovery journey. The campaign gives 20% back in travel credits for vacation rentals booked nationwide. This is just one example of these efforts, as over the past year we've launched a number of targeted campaigns to encourage continued excitement for travel and support for our partners and their communities. As always, our marketing teams are also leveraging our expertise in digital demand generation—which we’re industry leaders in—to help bring travelers to our partner's properties, and we’re leveraging the latest search and messaging products across digital channels in addition to social media.
As travel begins to resume in some markets and is largely back on track in places like the U.S., how are you all bringing on new supply given the surge in demand for alternative accommodation over the last 18 months?
Because we’re a prominent player in the industry, many partners come directly to us, but we’re also taking a more targeted approach to bringing new partners on board and adapting the experience specifically for their needs. We are doing everything from testing various incentives for partners, to ensuring they have access to key demand data in their Booking.com platform of choice, to making it simple for them to get involved with visibility boosting programs like our
Preferred or Genius loyalty programs. As with everything at Booking.com, we’re testing and learning what works best in terms of bringing new partners on while ensuring that our existing partners are able to capture business as well.
While we have built a large and competitive alternative accommodations business globally, we believe we have a significant opportunity for improvement in the U.S. which will involve further product improvements, supply acquisition, and raising consumer awareness of this type of inventory on Booking.com. We’ve certainly seen a bit of a shift for some travelers wanting to be isolated away from other people, so we’ll continue to focus on building our standalone property supply in a market like the U.S. but will also continue to balance this against monitoring evolving trends and the extent to which traveler appetites may return closer to pre-pandemic.
What can our property manager attendees expect to hear from you and your team this year?
We know our accommodation partners are eager to delve into our intel across industry trends, customer insights, forward-thinking technologies, and much more. I’m excited for our team to dig into those areas with them and share our vision for the future of the evolving industry. Further to that end, we are looking forward to sharing how we’re getting our partners ready to recapture international traveler demand as it returns, particularly once transatlantic travel reopens. Also, with such a large portion of accommodation partners now making use of channel managers and property management systems, we likewise have a continued focus on connectivity, and are excited to share best practices related to onboarding, commercial opportunities, and guest management.
Attendees can expect to hear just how excited we are to be with them, connecting, once again. The past 18 months have been incredibly challenging for all of us, and the dynamism and uncertainty that has characterized this time will continue for a bit longer. As we continue on this rebuilding journey together, we promise to continue offering our support so their businesses can recover faster
What’s the next big thing you see coming down the road in this industry? What will you be talking about at VRMA in 2022?
We’re at such an inflection point of uncertainty for the travel industry, and while I could never anticipate what exact and immense innovation lies ahead for the travel industry—and the vacation rental industry in particular—I am confident that there will be continued innovation and change to the entire industry. That could—and likely will—be around safety or flexibility, all the way to increased personalization, mobile acceleration, surfacing more sustainable offerings, or developing solutions that truly make it easier for everyone to experience the world. Being open to change and being flexible to develop new products and services that respond to our new reality is going to be key in attracting and supporting travelers. That’s exactly what we’ll look to do over the next year and beyond.
Travel is an incredibly resilient industry and we have been through so much already, but we remain confident that as a part of our commitment to rebuilding the industry together, we will continue to innovate and respond to the needs of our partners and customers along the way.
As the global head of Booking.com’s homes and apartments business, Eric Bergaglia leads one of the fastest growing segments for the company. Focused on tailoring the Booking.com experience for partners that offer these types of unique, local stays and customers who want to book and enjoy them, Bergaglia and his team support properties in 228 countries and territories around the globe.
*This article is sponsored content from Eric Bergaglia of Booking.com*