While Airbnb has attracted a lot of attention in the hospitality and travel industry over the past couple of years, before the home-sharing platform rose to dominance it was Booking.com that was dominating the online accommodation sector originally. The history of booking.com goes much further back compared to younger companies like Airbnb, and gives a glimpse into how online accommodation has changed over the past couple of decades. Originally created as Bookings.nl, the small internet company went through multiple mergers and acquisitions to become part of Booking Holdings, which has been publicly traded on the NASDAQ since 1999 and is a component of the S&P 100 and 500 indices. Despite its humble beginnings, Booking.com represented around 89% of Booking Holdings’ gross profit for 2017, and over the past 20 years has become the world’s largest platform for hotel bookings around the world.
In 1996, Booking.com founder Geert-Jan Bruinsma came across Hilton.com, which allowed Hilton hotel room bookings over the internet in the United States. When he looked to see if he could book a hotel room online in Amsterdam he discovered it wasn’t possible, and so Bruinsma decided to create a website for people in or visiting the Netherlands to book a hotel room online. Bruinsma wasn’t well acquainted with the hotel industry, yet quickly spun up Bookings.nl and let hotels decide their rooms’ rates on the website with a 5% commission. In 1997, when he tried to take an advertisement out in the newspaper, he was rejected since advertisements couldn’t just be for a website address and required a phone number.
While Bruinsma had early initiative, Bookings.nl was behind two other websites about hotels in Amsterdam, with neither one offering online reservations. One allowed reservations through an email form and the other was simply an online advertising space for hotels, so Bruinsma offered to collaborate by having their sites link to Bookings.nl for a 50/50 split on booking commissions. This move helped kickstart Bruinsma’s business, and by the end of 1998 he was able to hire another person to help him out with the company. In 2000, Bookings.nl merged with Bookings Online and adopted the currently used Booking.com URL, with Bruinsma able to hire another five employees by 2002.
At this point, Booking.com had attracted a global user base and was in talks to be purchased by Expedia. After about six months of work and negotiations, Expedia’s board ultimately decided not to go through with the purchase. About three years later in 2005, Priceline Group acquired Booking.com for $133 million before incorporating it with its purchase of Active Hotels Limited. While Priceline Group owns a variety of known travel and accommodation websites (Priceline.com, Kayak.com, Rentalcars.com, and Agoda.com to name a few), since its purchase Booking.com has been their key driver of revenue. It wasn’t surprising when at the start of 2018 Priceline Group changed their name to Booking Holdings.
In order to remain competitive, Booking.com has been branching out into the short-term rentals market. In May of 2019 the company reported to have more than 5.8 million home-listings around the world, generating $2.8 billion (20 percent of the company’s overall revenue) in revenue from alternative accommodations in 2018. While Airbnb came out to say their platform has more than 6 million listings, Booking.com is continuously adding new tools to make property management and search filtering for short-term rentals on their platform easier. Along with this, Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel mentioned in a recent earnings call that he’s considering opportunistic mergers and acquisitions in order to push growth in new sectors. It’s likely that home sharing is only the beginning, with Booking.com looking to expand their services to offer bookable tours and activities to ensure they remain on top as the world’s primary travel and accommodation website.