“Cars are worshiped because they are beautiful and valued because they give power; They are hated because they are horrible, and they are hated because they impose slavery.” Along with this quote from the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, a book called “The Machine” written by three Dutch journalists, Stijn Bronzwaer, Merijn Rengers and Joris Kooyman. Booking.com, the true story”, published in Spanish by Libros de Cabecera.
“We chose the idea of the machine because it combines what we felt and what the people inside feel,” explains Maryjn Rangers at the book’s launch in Madrid. “This is a company that is a money-making machine and at the same time it’s screwing up the people who work there; It’s like the movie Modern Times, where the car is in control,” he assures us. This book will also be adapted to the screen, as Warner Bros. bought the rights to the investigation conducted by Dutch journalists.
In its more than 300 pages and after speaking to more than 300 people, they detail how the various management teams that have gone through the company, which started in 1996 as a Dutch company and today has an American headquarters, have achieved clear success. The story.. a millionaire benefit that they say is characterized by poor treatment of their workers call centersConsecutive millionaire bonuses for senior management and shareholders who sometimes treated themselves badly because all that glittered was not gold.
“Without an Ounce of Compassion”
The germ of their investigation is an email received by the newspaper they work for, NRC Handelsblad, in the middle of the pandemic: “Reserved people are being fired or they are making their jobs too difficult in the hope that they will resign. Most of the employees are foreigners and are therefore not familiar with Dutch employment regulations, which makes them particularly vulnerable. It is unethical, given the current coronavirus situation, to make people suffer even more without compassion. There are dozens of examples. We want to talk about it.”
From there, they’re learning the dual treatment of tech workers and customer-facing people, whose working conditions they say have worsened in recent years. “Reservation pays tech workers very well, they have much better conditions than other Dutch companies; But it pays agents very poorly call centre. He believes that people in technology are special and that everyone can work a call centre“, Ranger deepens.
“Executive Director [el actual consejero delegado, Glenn Fogel] He lives in New York and ran the company from his room at home, where he fired people via video conference,” says Stijn Bronzvaer. Journalists admit that the company’s management was not very happy that a book was written about its internal history. “They were not satisfied, but they gave us an opportunity fact checking, to make sure everything was correct. The CEO found it interesting. This is a difficult book, but consider it part of a large company. They did not try to block us or work against us,” they claim. “The reservation has become Americanized,” they summarize.
These layoffs, in the midst of a pandemic, have some parallels to what is currently happening with Twitter, where Elon Musk has decided to lay off a large portion of its workforce. “It’s a similar situation in culture,” says Renger. “Those at the top don’t care about the employees, the attitude is the same. The difference is that Twitter doesn’t make money and Booking.com does a lot. Similarity is the distance between decision-makers and non-decision-makers,” he notes. Booking Holding’s operating result (Ebitda) in 2021 was 2.9 billion dollars.
According to the journalist, this bad treatment of the base personnel is reflected in how the company or its subsidiaries behaved in the case of suicide, where it is assumed that it is impossible to find out the reasons: “There were suicides of people who worked. for that call centers from Booking.com. You never know why someone is killed, but the criticism is related to how they managed it, because there were people, colleagues, who couldn’t come to the funeral because their superiors told them there was a lot of work.”
Client spying and silence
The book partially focuses on the management model. Most shocking to Stijn Bronzwaer, however, was the discovery that the company had been secretly spying on customers traveling to the Middle East. “Our first source told us: The first thing you should see is a security hole,” he explains. “An agent connected to US intelligence got into the system and reported data about people traveling to the Middle East, and the company kept it quiet,” says Bronzwaer.
“The company’s security department found out that someone was on the system, reported it, and the management team decided to keep a low profile and not notify customers who were spying on it,” he adds. Customers who have booked trips or hotels in Saudi Arabia or Qatar.
“When we talked to insiders, they didn’t know anything. It happened a few years ago, the current management didn’t know anything, they found out from the book,” adds Merijn Rangers, who emphasizes how the platform has data on millions of people. “Managers of large multinational companies book with Booking, everyone does,” ironically.
Bonus after receiving state aid
During the pandemic, when employees complained about layoffs, Booking.com management It requested help from the Dutch government to cover the costs of the pandemic and, at the same time, gave bonuses to its managers.
“The company returned the money because there was a lot of social and political pressure from the parliament, but the company returned it, not the managers,” criticizes Maryjn Rangers.
The authors of the book examine the business model itself, how a small Dutch platform managed to become an American giant, which basically makes a customer book on its website and receives a commission from hotels in return. , sometimes, can be between 15% or 20% of the booking.
“They have no risk, the hotels take it, because Booking.com is only an intermediary. Their costs are workers and some buildings, they don’t have factories or logistics platforms,” they explain. “All hotel companies have a love-hate relationship with Booking, but they have to be there even if they lose money, but the big chains negotiate more commissions than the smaller hotels,” explains Rengers.
The basis of the model is to have a website that is not particularly attractive to the customer because, they say, the business is to get the customer to come in and make a reservation in the shortest possible time. And the hook, the message “only three rooms available”. “The hotel lists three rooms on Booking.com; When those are reserved, he puts in three more. It gives a feeling of scarcity, but this is not true,” points out Stijn Bronzvaer.
A business model that is being investigated by EU competition authorities as well as Spain’s CNMC. However, the authors of the book do not believe that Buking is afraid of this investigation: “If they are fined, they would rather pay than change their business model.”
The book is structured step by step, depending on who held the reins of the company. Two of his main managers left him for completely different jobs. On the one hand, Kees Koolen, to become one of the largest investors in agriculture. On the other hand, Steph Norden, who has moved to India, where he is said to be practicing transcendental meditation. “I don’t know if he will go to India and be happy or think about how he made so much money. At the end of the day, people didn’t make the world a better place, it’s a business that just made you book a hotel faster, nothing more,” concludes Rangers.
Source: El Diario