Industry Perspectives

How Booking.com is optimising search for local travel

Consumer appetite for nearby getaways is growing in parallel with last-minute bookings. We explore how Booking.com is optimising the search function to cater to this new traveller behaviour

For many travellers, we know getting away from crowds and popular hotspots is now top of mind, with consumers opting to explore lesser-known locations within driving distance. We spoke with Booking.com Senior Product Manager Pramod Vadlamani about our search nearby feature - and how it can help partners increase their visibility during recovery.

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Pramod Vadlamani
Pramod Vadlamani, Senior Product Manager at Booking.com

Click.: Why did Booking.com build a ‘near me’ search functionality?

Vadlamani: Since the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we’ve seen customers increasingly looking to travel locally and that travel distance significantly influences behaviour. When looking at all the distances users have travelled, we see that after the pandemic hit, a higher percentage of reservations were for very short distances when compared to the same period in 2019. We’ve also seen from Google trends data that there’s been an increase in searches centred around “near me”.

We’re trying to create marketable experiences that work well together and help the customer find the right property for them during this time. In search, this means showing and boosting more domestic destinations while also suggesting new, lesser-known locations and trying to encourage customers to visit local places.

While this functionality was planned as part of our long-term roadmap, the pandemic highlighted the urgency for us to provide domestic opportunities to help both our customers and partners during this time.

Click.: How did the team go about developing the function?

Vadlamani: We started by analysing emerging trends and how customers were behaving. We saw that there was an affinity for local destinations, with travellers starting to look for regional locations over bigger cities. In fact, when we looked at the top global search destinations, we were surprised to see that none of them were the popular cities that we’re used to - six of the top 10 had never been in the top 10 before, such as the Baltic Sea and Rügen region in Germany.

Then we started ideating around what we could do to cater to that demand. We brainstormed across teams and tracks, explored many ideas and worked on prioritising them. By combining customer insights, data and additional customer research, we started designing and developing this function with the user in mind. In testing rounds, customers responded really well. The feature got a very high click-through rate and they seemed to appreciate it.

Click.: How does it work from the tech side? What determines if a property is ‘near’ a customer?

Vadlamani: Apart from the usual search parameters that are availability, dates and occupancy, the ‘near me’ functionality depends on other factors such as the location information we have from the customer and the country the customer is searching for. In addition, we also personalise the results based on the user’s preferences, eg past properties they’ve booked.

Click.: How can this new function benefit partners?

Vadlamani: Our optimised search features are meant to support our shared goal of rebuilding together with our partners by offering guests new opportunities to discover or rediscover destinations. Since customer preferences are changing and lesser-known destinations are gaining traction, it offers the ability for properties that may normally go unnoticed to surface more frequently.

In practice, this means a better experience for users - but it will also result in a boost in visibility and bookings for partners.

Click.: How does this feature complement other recent search optimisations?

Vadlamani: We also have a feature called ‘nearby popular destinations’ where we show users nearby popular destinations in the search box and on the home page. The suggestions again depend on where the user is coming from, and we’re trying to offer a variety of domestic destinations they can travel to. This is a different version of ‘near me’ in the sense that it’s not locations very near them, but it’s still about how we improve the visibility for local destinations and improve bookings for them by encouraging users to travel domestically and seek out local properties.

 

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Topics
Takeaway
  • A new ‘near me’ search function on Booking.com is satisfying user demand for stays within driving distance 
  • Apart from the usual search parameters including availability and dates, this functionality personalises results based on the user’s location and past preferences 
  • For partners, this innovation makes it easier for properties located in lesser-known destinations to surface - increasing their visibility on the platform
  • An additional feature on the homepage and search box that showcases ‘nearby popular destinations’ is also encouraging customers to travel domestically