Back in 2002, when she was working in traditional hotels, Booking.com CEO Gillian Tans saw the potential for the internet to upend the travel business. Sixteen years later, she's the head of one of the biggest disruptors.
Booking.com rivals Airbnb for the most listings of rentable homes and apartments. It also lists rooms for hotels, bed and breakfasts, even treehouses and igloos. Right now, most of its 28.9 million listings are in Europe, but it has set its sights on the U.S. and China.
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Here, Tans talks about the tone she sets as a leader at Booking.com, and how small businesses can take part in the booming business of travel.
Q. What advice would you give your younger self about managing people or running a business? What did you learn from your early mistakes?
A. I truly believe taking risks are what helped me get to where I am today. When I made the decision to join Booking.com it was based on my belief that the internet was going to fundamentally disrupt the travel industry. There were certainly people that did not agree with me or thought it was too big of a risk, and of course there were many learnings throughout the way, but I was always a curious person and knew I had to explore a certain path. I also think it's important in business to seek mentors and serve as a mentor to help guide through failures and serve as a source of inspiration and motivation.
Q. What have you learned about problem-solving over the years? What are the keys to tackling your most difficult challenges?
A. We nurture a test-and-learn culture of entrepreneurialism at Booking.com that empowers people to dare to try new things and to not be afraid to fail. We love to fail often and fast at Booking.com, because that's what allows us to innovate and stay flexible. Every mistake is an opportunity to learn. When you take away the fear of making a mistake, it creates an amazingly free and open environment for true innovation and creativity. We believe in the strength and power of the many, and that great ideas are all around us.
Q. Travel and tourism is booming. What advice do you have for small business owners who want to be part of that trend?
A. My advice for small business owners in travel is to be locally relevant for customers, while still thinking global. Booking.com's mindset has been international from day one, which has made it easier for us to scale, unlike most global companies and large U.S.-centric tech brands. I would also advise to never forget to put the customer first. Listening and adjusting to customers to meet their needs is incredibly important. I am a big believer in having a strong customer service team.
Q. How do you manage work-life balance?
A. Staying organized both personally and professionally is key to managing work-life balance. Technology has made it easier to stay in touch with my family on the road and when I am not traveling I try to stay present when I am home - biking with my kids to school in the mornings before going to the office, enjoying meals together and just discussing the day. I'm lucky that my job has intersected into my personal life through my family's love of travel. We love to take vacations together, some of which are strictly for holiday and others where they will join me on business. So I can say I am contributing to the "bleisure" trend!