Booking.com has made a major push into the alternative accommodations sector in recent years, offering everything from apartments and vacation homes to glamping sites and traditional Japanese ryokans. The OTA now has roughly 6.2 million listings of alternative accommodations out of a total of approximately 28 million listings. Hotels editor Christina Jelski recently spoke to Eric Bergaglia, global head of Booking.com's homes and apartments business, about continued expansion into the alternative accommodations space.
Q: Is Booking.com seeing significant growth in a certain type of alternative accommodation?
A: We're focusing more on where we know customers want to go and on specific kinds of supply. For example, in Paris we may need more apartments, but in the south of France we need more villas and bed-and-breakfast accommodations. If you know that we have more couples looking for B&Bs in a particular region, we will try to grow B&B supply there. We're trying to grow in the most relevant way and tailor the way in which we acquire and grow our supply.
Q: As Booking.com's alternative accommodations inventory grows, how do you ensure users are being shown the most relevant options?
A: We're always trying to add additional ways for us to improve the matching of the right recommendation to the right customer, and that includes the introduction of a new quality rating system for alternative accommodations, which we recently announced. It was a project that we started a year ago, after we sort of identified the fact that we know what a four-star hotel is because that hotel specifically tells us what makes it a four-star hotel. And we know customers get a sense of satisfaction from knowing those hotel star ratings. So, while we do have customer reviews for our alternative accommodations, customer reviews are a subjective thing. What we wanted to introduce is an objective rating looking at more than 400 different features, including air conditioning, coffee machine, the bed, types of linens, etc. So now, for any apartment that comes up in our search results, you'll see the star rating on the property page, and you'll have an explanation telling you about that rating. We are now putting together reports to make sure that every partner knows their rating but also, more importantly, how they can actually act on it. If you are a three-star property and something is preventing you from becoming a four-star, we want to help you understand that.
Q: Many major tourism markets are cracking down on the proliferation of short-term vacation rentals. Is this a concern as alternative accommodations become a larger part of the business?
A: We are a law-abiding company and believe in consistent regulation and laws. If we get any complaints or any feedback that a property listing might be fraudulent, or if we have someone uploading a listing but not following the local law or regulation, then we investigate. And in some cases, we have shut down properties. Also, we have local commercial and sales teams and local experts in touch regularly with regulators. It's very rare that we're surprised by a decision to put, say, a cap on the city, etc. Usually we are part of the discussion, and sometimes regulators even come to us with questions, and we are able to give our input.