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This article was published on April 19, 2019

Booking.com’s CEO on diversity in tech and the future of tourism

Booking.com’s CEO on diversity in tech and the future of tourism
Ailsa Sherrington
Story by

Ailsa Sherrington

Former Social Media Manager, TNW

Ailsa Sherrington is a former content marketer at TNW. Ailsa Sherrington is a former content marketer at TNW.

In an age of digital advancement, the tourism industry has embraced new tech to deliver improved user experiences. With the summer fast approaching, I wanted to learn more about how travel companies like Booking.com are preparing for advancements like machine learning and artificial intelligence to fine-tune our holidays.

I sat down with Gillian Tans, CEO of Booking.com, to ask her all about it. As a powerhouse woman in tech and a keynote speaker at our upcoming TNW Conference, I asked her about diversity, sustainable tourism, and the future of the industry.

You have been vocal and passionate about diversity in the tech industry for a long time. What would you say are the biggest strides we’ve made, and the biggest hurdles we now face? How do you think we’ll overcome them?

There have been some incredible strides made towards diversifying the tech industry over the past few years, but we still have a long way to go. I’m unbelievably proud that at Booking.com we have over 17,000 employees across the globe, representing over 140 nationalities. Our global workforce is comprised of more than 50 percent women, and within our leadership team women hold one third of the positions. That type of diversity brings such a unique perspective to the decisions we make every day for our customers. But women and minorities across the industry are still underrepresented, particularly in core tech and leadership roles. At Booking.com, we are still only 20% women within tech roles, something we are immensely focused on improving.

We must continue to encourage additional diversity, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because businesses ultimately benefit from a diverse workforce. A key way to do this is through mentorship opportunities and to provide visible role models and possible entrants to the workforce.

Ultimately, businesses in today’s day and age must take a strong stance in supporting gender equality, continue to openly discuss diversity, and make improvements within their own organizations through enhancing career progression policies, assuring equal pay, and conducting unconscious bias training. We have to keep this conversation – and actionable steps that come from these talks at the top of our mind, in order to continue to make improvements.

As a successful woman, you are a role model to many young women. Do you have any advice for those starting their career in tech?

The advice I would give to anyone starting out is to take risks and not be afraid of new challenges or opportunities. My career path was not obvious, I had to make many twists and turns along the way to get where I am today. It required taking some chances. But those were the moments where I learned the most. Without challenging yourself, growth opportunities are limited. So take the risks. You will be better for it in the long run, regardless of the short-term outcome.

Booking.com has recently launched several initiatives to support sustainable startups in the tourism industry, like Booking Booster and Cares Volunteers. What was the reason behind these ventures, and what are their plans for the future?

The subject of sustainable tourism is near and dear to our hearts at Booking.com. We not only want to help travellers explore and experience the world, we also want to ensure that future generations can continue to encounter a world full of destinations still worth exploring.

We launched our Booking.com Booster Programme in 2017, which focuses on giving grants to start-ups in the sustainable tourism space, and we’ve since launched the Booking Cares Fund for bold, disruptive, dream projects to further expand our commitment across the various layers of the sustainable travel industry.

Looking ahead, we’re going to continue to harness the power of our people and expertise to lead sustainable change through innovation and collaboration. We are intensifying our investment of time, expertise, and capital into Cares, exploring and learning how best to protect the future of the destinations we love.

Technology plays a large role at Booking.com, but you have previously stated that you’re a customer-driven company rather than tech-driven. How would you describe Booking.com’s relationship with technology?

Our customers are our North Star in everything from service to innovation, and they are the guideposts for how we deploy technology. We ensure that any application of technology must really serve and enhance the customer experience in some way. We don’t experiment with technology for its own sake—it must actively solve a customer problem, remove friction from the travel experience, and make our customers’ lives easier. Otherwise, it’s not something we spend our time and energy on.

What vision do you have for technology and tourism in the future? How is Booking.com planning for that future?

Digital technology will continue to transform the consumer experience when it comes to travel, reshaping the way travellers research, book, and experience where they are going, stripping friction from the process to make it even easier to explore further and with more confidence, flexibility, and personalized options. Artificial intelligence, and specifically, machine learning, will play a transformative role in making this happen, so it’s an area where we will continue to invest. Whether it’s trip personalization or a customer service experience, we are on the cusp of a future in which the user experience requires both cutting-edge technology with human connection.

Ultimately, where our customers lead, we will follow, so no matter the technology or the consumer need, we’ll continue to test, innovate, and develop products that empower them to experience the world.

Want to learn more about the future of tech and tourism? Don’t miss Gillian Tans on stage at TNW Conference.

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