Darren Houston describes the work of technology enterprises in the online travel market as “incredibly complex, extremely dynamic and lightning fast. Investing only makes sense if the product is good.” This is a view surely not just shared by the CEO of the “sleeping giant“ Priceline Group, a name given by Phocuswright founder Philip C. Wolf at the ITB Convention Talk. Priceline is a global player. Houston has more than 13,000 employees who currently stand for six brands in a hotly contested market. Besides Priceline.com in the USA the Dutch subsidiary booking.com is the company’s best-known brand and is hosted in 30 versions and languages. booking.com has currently registered 100,000 transactions, excluding tablets. In future, besides large hotels, the booking platform will be catering for small hotels with only three rooms as well as holiday apartments. Hotel managers will be able to access a website and hospitality service as “most hotel websites are laid out like brochures and are not very conducive to bookings.“ Houston lives and works in Amsterdam. Among other businesses he manages the search engine Kayak as well as Wincars, a car hire company, and has set up On The Table in the USA. This platform lets users book local events online and is due to be launched in Germany as well.
What is the driving force behind such a large enterprise? The biggest challenge is building customer loyalty and creating optimum benefits for the customer. That means a lot of hard work. Making everything user-friendly is difficult. Houston works with small teams who source their knowledge internally. “We never have teams of more than eight”, the manager and former employee of Microsoft says. “Every innovation comes from our teams. They are at the cutting edge. Every brand tries out different things.” The point is to ensure brands are mobile. “People who aren’t mobile aren’t in the market.”
40 teams alone are responsible for booking.com. Everyone has his particular task. Houston, a farmer’s son, likes to say “we are workhorses and not show horses.“ Or, put another way, “we don’t do Powerpoint presentations, we use a programming language instead.” The system has to work. According to Houston “the most important thing about cows is that they have to be milked.”