Booking.com: Amsterdam's elephant hiding behind the tree

“We are the proverbial elephant hiding behind the tree,” answered CEO Darren Huston, when the mayor of Amsterdam expressed his surprise and asked him why Booking.com had flown so long under his radar (and that of many other Amsterdammers). Despite the fact that this digital company has grown into one of Europe’s largest e-commerce businesses, the company has until recently maintained a degree of local anonymity.

Addressing the profile

The company’s new global headquarters are in The Bank, a beautifully-restored former bank located on the ever-bustling Rembrandtplein in the city centre. Booking.com seized the opportunity to make it utterly clear just how important Amsterdam – and all that the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area stands for – is to the company and the employees who are based at the new headquarters: some 1,200 people comprising more than 70 different nationalities. “In theory, as an online hotel reservation company, we are not bound to one location,” continues Huston. “But the reality of the situation is very different. It’s crucial for the further development of this e-commerce business and for the efficient running of the operation that talented people from all over the world want to work for the company and can gather in one location. As such, establishing a headquarters in Amsterdam is a great asset for us. Especially for young people, Amsterdam is the place to be. They want to live and work here because the work-life balance of this city is such a unique experience.”

“This is also why we have chosen this central location as opposed to somewhere in the business district on the outskirts of the city. Here you can really feel the pulse of the city. Our gateway to the rest of the world, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, is only 15 minutes away by taxi. And everyone lives just a short bike ride away. Actually, in the garage under the building, you’ll only find bicycles. That alone makes our new headquarters very special.”

From the attic to a globally successful concept

Booking.com was born in an attic just a couple of hours away from the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. In 1996, Geert-Jan Bruinsma, a computer scientist from Twente, spotted the enormous potential of creating an online platform through which both businesses and private travellers could book a room in a hotel or a bed & breakfast anywhere in the world. Especially since the Dutch company merged with the stock exchange quoted American Priceline Group in 2005, things have been moving fast.

Nowadays, the branch network, with more than 85 offices in 47 countries, is controlled from Amsterdam. Worldwide, Booking.com has  over 4,400 employees on its payroll. Although the company hasn’t released official information about its precise market share, it’s an open secret for travel and conference industry experts that Booking.com is the global market leader in accommodation bookings. The trading room of the former Amsterdamsche Bank has now been transformed into the very heart of Booking.com’s operations. Hundreds of terminals have been arranged into small work islands, where self-reliant teams, responsible for a specific customer group or region, work together in striking peace and harmony. The majority of the employees are young and casually dressed.

Amsterdam: the centre of the web

The centre of the web is the headquarters in the heart of Amsterdam. This is where future strategies are devised and new applications and services developed for the customers in the 178 countries that Booking.com serves online. Each week, members of staff are flown in from all over the world for training courses. Amsterdam also hosts the company’s annual event in December, with this edition bringing together more than 4,000 Booking.com employees. “We are delighted to play host to our colleagues at the end of the financial year. While we are a digital business, it remains important to physically meet now and then to celebrate success, network and share experiences.

All in all, the visibility of Booking.com in Amsterdam is increasing. “We feel like real Amsterdammers.”