Zeno Live

Booking's Joshua Wood and Serko's Darrin Grafton Detail Collaboration

14 June 2022

In this special Zeno Live installment, Serko CEO and Co-Founder Darrin Grafton sits down in-person with Joshua Wood, Head of Booking.com for Business.

The pair discuss the power of face-to-face, the collaboration underway between Serko and Booking, and the development pipeline for both companies in the year ahead. Plus, Joshua shares the Booking.com for Business view on the opportunity in corporate travel, the growth of the platform and business travel priorities of SME customers post-COVID.

Watch the recording or view the full transcript below.

Full Transcript:

Darrin Grafton: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Zeno Live. I'm here with Josh Wood from Booking.com. It's been an awesome week so far. Can you share a little bit about what you've been down here doing with us?

Joshua Wood: It's been absolutely incredible, right? The last time we got together was what, February of 2020?

Darrin Grafton: Yeah.

Joshua Wood: We've been working remotely this entire time, and as soon as Jacinda opened up the country May 1st, I hopped on a plane and got back down here. It's been great, I've been connecting with the team, everyone at the product organization all the way up to the execs, and talking about what the future is for Booking for Business, how Serko is transforming and how we can help as we start to rely on things like AB testing and experimentation and bringing in the Booking.com product ethos within your entire culture.

Darrin Grafton: I think it's one of the most cool things, face to face. Our whole way that we've gone in our industries has been about experiences and connecting together, and there's just so much more that's actually done by doing it face to face.

Joshua Wood: Yeah, and thank God, otherwise I'd be out of a job, right? My entire reason for existing is to create a business travel product and if you can do everything through a little tiny window, then there's no reason for existing. But that's not the case at all. As much as you can collaborate remotely, spending a week together face to face, seeing the teams interact together, you can't replace that. And business travel will certainly evolve, but it's not going away.

Darrin Grafton: Today's been one of the best days of having you and Matt down here actually teaching us about that experimentation and what the future's going to look like, how we're going to get faster. How do you think Serko is going to go through that curve of experimentation?

Joshua Wood: I think the most important part is that you guys are all really enthusiastic about it. Unilaterally, across the organization, everyone's like, "Yes. When can we start? Let's go now." That will only accelerate as we start to deploy the data framework that we're talking about, and then the AB testing tools on top of it. As your product team starts to run experimentation, as they start to see that making this change makes this effect and we're delighting customers more and more — that is so addicting. It's one of the things I love about working for Booking.com. Coming into Booking.com as a product person and seeing all of that framework was just amazing, and an amazing transformation for myself as a product person. And now, helping Serko do that with their product org is also going to be really, really cool.

Darrin Grafton: I think that's one of the most exciting things is to see your team being delivered a set of tools and, potentially, in the future, mentorship to get to that level that your teams are at and that you're at, that's pretty cool.

Joshua Wood: We've basically unlocked the cabinet of everything we do at Booking.com and said, "We will connect you guys with people all across our organization to help bring you along that path faster than you can get there by yourselves." It's going to be really good.

Darrin Grafton: One of the questions we get asked all the time is, why Serko? We've got a very similar culture together, we are really passionate around business travel and travel. We also share the same vision. Let's connect content together. Let's create a connected journey. So, I guess one of the questions that a lot of people ask us is why did Booking.com look at us?

Joshua Wood: What brought us to Serko in this partnership is, I used to look after all of our connectivity and commercial agreements with all of the other online booking tools out there. Concur, GetThere, Serko, whatever. We had a longstanding relationship before we ever partnered on Booking for Business. And, from the very first time we met, I went back and said, "Hey, listen, actually, this is a really good tool." So, if I think about all of the other corporate tools that are out there, there's none that delivers the same sort of experience that Zeno does. So, if we're going to partner with someone, if we're going to take people off of our infrastructure and put them onto someone else's, we want to put it on the very best experience possible. So, that's why. It was a very simple decision of, if we can't do it ourselves, these are the right guys to partner with.

Darrin Grafton: Thank you. I think we treat it with a level of pride. Booking entrusting a third party with the brand and making sure that we can actually bring this vision to life together — it's that joint of cultures that we want to experiment, we want to try and get business travel to this new way of connecting around the world and that I think is pretty cool. One of the things we've seen is the content coming out and people have been asking us, "Where has content spanned through?" We saw last month, Australia went live with flights for the first time, and I know a lot of the stakeholders that have invested in Serko were going, "When can we start to trial it with flights and stuff like that?" Do you have a view of how you are looking at content around the world or any of those sort of things?

Joshua Wood: No, not really. I am fortunate enough to be in an incubator with Booking for Business, and I am focused entirely on, how do we make this thing as good as possible? That's within an organization that's looking at flights, looking at rental cars, looking at everything along that connected trip journey across the entire world. They're doing all the heavy lifting and we're following behind.

Darrin Grafton: It just sort of slots in.

Joshua Wood: Yeah, exactly. So as Booking.com offers flights in Australia, Booking.com for Business then offers flights for Australia. So it's using some of the same connections, some of the same partnerships that we have with airlines, et cetera, but it's really Booking.com leading that path and then we just come along.

Darrin Grafton: Fast follow.

Joshua Wood: Yeah, fast follow. Exactly. Which means I don't have to do any of the heavy work with legal and regulatory things around flights, which I'm quite happy about.

Darrin Grafton: What do you see are the capabilities that both Serko and Booking bring to the partnership from your perspective?

Joshua Wood: Yeah, so from the Booking.com side, we bring the ability to reach the world and reach millions of customers at scale, unlike pretty much anyone else out there. We're clear leaders in the accommodation space, we're getting better and better on the flight side, on the rental car side. The history of experimentation and how you can do optimization through AB testing, our rigor around data and understanding what customers want. Those are all really, really big strengths of ours. And then you couple that with Serko, which, you guys have a really, really good booking tool, right? It's the market leader. And so, we want to bring those two things together, and we think then we can make an offering that starts at the small to medium size business, goes up, because ultimately, Zeno, the technology that's powering this, is used by Fortune 500 companies. And it's bringing that power down throughout the entire ecosystem. It's really, really powerful.

Darrin Grafton: Do you have any commentary with the size of the company? Is Booking for Business just for small businesses or is it actually for all businesses that want to be connected to the Booking.com brand? What attracts people into using Booking for Business as well?

Joshua Wood: I think it depends on the organization. You have some organizations that are really complex, have really complex travel policies. That's not what we're building. We're building a tool that is self-service, self-managed. You can go sign up in five minutes and start booking and deploy it across your entire organization. We have company sizes ranging from one person up to tens of thousands, and where that distinction is made is really the individual company level. We have a large amount of marketing that reaches out to companies to say, "Hey, we have a tool. It's free. It's giving you a corporate travel booking tool unlike you've ever used before. Faster, better, smoother, friction-free. Great experience. Would you like to use it?" We're giving all of the tools to book and manage your travel to the individual travelers and the travel arrangers. So, it's really the companies that are open to that sort of digital transformation of self-service.

Darrin Grafton: It's an exciting journey. For us, it's a different way of us thinking. We've been very focused on that real enterprise, policy-driven organization. And now, coming into this small business segment that's wanting to go through this type of, "I want to be in control," sort of thing, and the technology, and that A and B testing, it's incredibly exciting to have both sides running in parallel, and seeing that actually have an outcome on the other side into the managed travel space is pretty cool.

Joshua Wood: When you have hundreds of thousands of companies using the product, then those improvements that you're making to make them happy will only percolate up throughout the entire organization.

Darrin Grafton: Yeah, it's pretty cool.

Joshua Wood: At the end of the day, everyone wants to just quickly book their business travel and move on with their lives.

Darrin Grafton: Making it frictionless as well.

Joshua Wood: Exactly.

Darrin Grafton: So, do you have a vision for the Booking for Business platform?

Joshua Wood: What we talk about internally a lot is that we want Booking.com for Business to help companies thrive in a constantly changing business travel environment, using a platform that they love. There's three parts of that. So, thrive: We want businesses that use Booking.com for Business to do better than the ones that don't use it. And it's not just about a business travel platform, it's also about unlocking things like partnerships with WeWork, where they get 50% off office space. We'll expand those partnerships and create an ecosystem of savings for businesses. Then changing business travel — we know business travel's not going to be the same as what it was back in 2019 pre-pandemic. One of the things I'm focused on, and I know Serko is as well, is making sure that we're developing a product that's for the future. It's not that we think 2024 looks like 2019. It becomes about, hey, now that everyone's working remotely, everyone's working hybrid, you don't necessarily bring everyone into HQ. You bring them into the place where everyone can have a direct flight, where it's cheap, where you can have everyone come together and collaborate. The final thing is about loving our platform. We want people to love the experience they have, and there are very few companies in the corporate travel space that have a platform that people love. At most, they tolerate it, right? But most of them actively hate it. If they didn't, they'd have attachment rates higher than 50%. That's what's really driving us. We want people to be passionate about they're using this platform and it's making their lives easier.

Darrin Grafton: You've brought a lot of stuff in with Booking.com around clean hotels and how people can actually make a better selection through some of the content, some of the dynamics that are on the screen to really help a traveler, a booker be really informed. Has it been a vision that you've seen with Booking to have that level of care for that traveler that helps back up all of those statements that you've sort of made around the thrive and care?

Joshua Wood: We recognize that for certain people, whether it's sustainability, whether it's cleanliness, most people for cleanliness, right? It's hard to find someone that goes, "No, I don't want something clean." But it's really about helping people find the thing that's right for them. We go out and there's over 100,000 sustainable properties right now. And for companies and people that really care about reducing their carbon footprint, making efforts to live a more sustainable life, they can now quickly find that on both Booking.com and on Booking for Business. We have the opportunity to influence hundreds of thousands of companies to be more sustainable in their business travel, which is really quite exciting. It's all about choice.

Darrin Grafton: I think one thing COVID's done is that nearly every business and government is trying to get to emission zero, how do we offset our footprint? And if we are traveling, how do we make the right choices? How do you see the Booking for Business site actually being differentiated from the standard .com leisure site and what does that means to the booker and traveler?

Joshua Wood: We want to bring the core functionality of Booking.com — amazing selection, great pricing — into a corporate travel space. And then what we do is we layer on top of it. You can save a corporate credit card for all of your travelers to use. You can see the consolidated travel spend of all of your travelers. If you're just going to Booking.com, you see that on an individual basis, you can save your individual credit card. But when you bring that into a business travel environment and you use Booking.com for Business, now it's about seeing the aggregate of what all of your employees are doing. Over time we can do things like adding in budgets, adding in policies, adding a level of customization that can be configured at the company level so that it becomes more and more configured to what the company needs. That's sort of the vision on how we'll get there.

Darrin Grafton: How are you encouraging businesses to actually sign up to the Booking for Business site today?

Joshua Wood: We have thousands of companies signing up on a monthly basis that look at the booking experience that we're offering — that Zeno by Serko is powering — look at our supply and how they can save money through access to closed user groups, access to special content, access to discounts on things like the WeWork office experience, and then wrapped around in a tool that's completely free to use. We don't have to do anything, right? We don't even have a sales team.

Darrin Grafton: Yeah, and it's quite amazing that when you create an ad, I guess, and that resonates, and then it's frictionless through the process. There's no cost. It's just all taken out. And then people just sign up, and it's quite an amazing process to see that people come into that funnel and then naturally they go, "Oh, yeah, I'm business." So, it's pretty cool.

Joshua Wood: Yeah. We don't need sales people to try and sell you on why it's good. You can just see it, and you sign up and you start using it. It's really been good.

Darrin Grafton: Do you see the corporate travel opportunity the same as when we first signed the partnership in 2019?

Joshua Wood: It's not going to be the same. Whether it's smaller or bigger remains to be seen. We definitely see that people still want to connect. I flew 26 hours in order to sit here in front of you today because two years apart through Zoom just doesn't cut it as far as collaboration goes. The question is, as companies move through that hybrid working environment, does that increase their need for travel? Do they actually spend more on travel now bringing people together because they're spending less money on office space? Is it that instead of an annual meeting where people all come to the HQ, it's that we have a monthly team meeting and it's in different cities around the world or at least around whatever country they're in? Those things remain to be seen. We're certainly still in COVID recovery. Things are not back to normal yet. I still have to wear a mask and those sort of things when on a plane. But what's really key is that no matter if it's bigger or smaller, it's still going to be sizeable, and there are still lots of opportunities to acquire market share within it and deliver a product that's going to be set for what the reality of future business travel looks like.

Darrin Grafton: What are you most excited about this year, about the partnership?

Joshua Wood: I'm really excited that we can actually see each other again. That makes things so much easier than doing everything on Zoom calls at 7:00AM and 7:00PM at night. But the other thing is that we're bringing our culture of experimentation into Serko, and watching the transformation over the next six months as your teams get up to speed and you start to see the velocity of experimentation, the velocity of delivering improvements to the customer experience and making just a better and better platform for our users is super exciting, and I can't wait to watch the transformation.

Darrin Grafton: With any time that you set up a business, and as an entrepreneur, when you're building technology, you want to see your team improve and the product improve, and to learn from other people. I think that experimentation and actually getting to where we have always imagined we could actually get to, one where we're in over 180 countries around the world now and multiple languages, and that's what I wake up for. I wake up going, "Can we get the technology further? Can I get my team to this next level?" It's great that what you bring to us is all of that experimentation, but also the product management side around how e-commerce works. I think we've been very product centric to build for enterprise level, but this key mindset that you've been able to deliver at Booking.com that you're going to share with us is pretty, exciting to be part of for this year ahead.

Joshua Wood: Absolutely. I can't wait.

Darrin Grafton: And it was quite cool, this morning I woke up and put on a Booking for Business shirt, and this morning you woke up and you put on a Zeno shirt.

Joshua Wood: It's very cool. We didn't call each other.

Darrin Grafton: Thanks a lot, Josh, for being here this week, and I think it just shows the real importance of face-to-face connections and what's actually possible when you bring people together. That's why we're in the industry, like you said, it's why we're here. So, thank you very much.

Joshua Wood: Absolutely. It's been my pleasure.

About the Speakers


Darrin Grafton

CEO & Co-Founder For Serko

Darrin has 25 years' experience in travel technology and is highly experienced in technology commercialisation. Along with Bob Shaw, Darrin established Interactive Technologies in 1994, a technology company designed to help travel agents solve a number of throny mid-office and back office system challenges. Following the sale of ITL, the company Serko was founded and launched in 2007. That same year, Darrin was awarded the PWC Entrepreneur of the Year Award.


Joshua Wood

Director of Business Travel & Head of Booking.com for Business at Booking.com

Joshua joined Booking.com in November 2014 as a product owner/manager of Ecommerce and rapidly climbed the ranks during his 7+ years with the company. He spent times as Head of Business Travel Technology Partnerships and Head of Global Business Travel Partnerships before being named Head of Booking for Business in 2019. Joshua played an integral role in establishing the Serko and Booking.com partnership.