“People look at a lot of different ways to book. The regulators don’t understand that more than half of hotelier’s business comes to them directly, and they have ways, through very easy-to-use technology, to distribute their rooms to many different retailers like ourselves, or maybe Expedia, or maybe Tui, or a wholesaler. They can send them anywhere and they do.”
At Booking, there is another thing at play here. Booking Holdings may be headquartered in the US but its Booking.com site, the expected subject of the new tougher rules and Booking’s largest business, is headquartered in the Netherlands.
For Fogel, it seems this would make any harsher rules a tough pill to swallow.
“Booking.com is one of the very few success stories in Europe,” he says. “The last thing I think anybody would want to do is come up with regulations that will hurt one of the few success stories and help many of the other non-European tech companies.
“It would be detrimental to technology in Europe more generally, and would in the long-run be detrimental to us ever being able to develop great worldwide tech giants” Fogel pauses. “By us all, I mean Europeans,” he explains, a reference to the fact that he himself is not European, but from the States – splitting his time between New York and Amsterdam.
Stricter European Union rules would likely not only hurt the bloc’s tech ambitions, Fogel says. “Certainly, the UK could come up with different regulations coming out of the EU. But here’s the issue, what we need is everybody to be very careful in the regulatory area. You could have countries not regulating here, but if another group of countries does, it could be very negatively impacted.”
Of course, he adds quickly, there should be some regulation. “Markets don’t exist without regulations, but they need to be good regulations.” Without that, it’s just “chaos” he says.
It’s fair to say that, even without this upcoming red-tape on the horizon, Fogel is in an industry which is already in chaos. Almost nine months after many countries shut down for the pandemic, hotels, airlines and restaurants have all been warning over imminent collapses.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics this month suggested a third of hotels and restaurants feared going bust over the winter.
The question is now what that means for Booking Holdings, which also owns restaurant booking site OpenTable alongside its travel booking portfolio.
Fogel admits it won’t be an easy period. “We’re hoping that someone just flicks a switch, and suddenly the world is beautiful again, but that’s not the way it’s going to work. I’m sure there will be setbacks somewhere.”
But, he isn’t too concerned that choices will dry up for customers. “Hotels don’t disappear,” he says. “Owners may lose their ownership but if it’s a good hotel and a good location, a new group will come in. I’m not concerned about there being a shortage of hotels at all. A lot of restaurants are closing their doors, but as soon as people can go out to eat, new restaurants will pop up. It’s the nature of dynamic capitalism.
“I guess I’m more concerned about the demand side of things.”