A top UK boss at Booking.com has revealed how the technology giant is attempting to "solve the most complicated problem in travel" and how it's bouncing back from the pandemic by creating hundreds of jobs.
In an exclusive interview with BusinessLive, Matthias Schmid outlined the company's plans to create the "connective trip" which will form the basis of its "core North Star objective" over the next few years.
He was forced to work in a different country before he was able to relocate from New York towards the end of last year.
Now the former Emirates executive is spearheading Booking.com's drive to make up for lost time which has involved creating 300 jobs in Manchester so far in 2022, with a further 60 vacancies still available.
The company is also preparing to move into a new headquarters in the city and take on one of its biggest challenges yet, seeing off tough competition to hire the best talent available.
Matthias Schmid of Booking.com
Speaking about his first few weeks in the job, Mr Schmid said: "I had at least five weeks in the office before we decided to move to a working from home environment.
"That gave me a little opportunity to meet some of the key people in the organisation and then we were working from home for two years.
"I didn't even properly manage to relocate to Manchester during that time. I didn't have time in five weeks to find an apartment, pack everything and actually make the move so I only managed to move last year.
"It was quite a challenge and an unexpected one."
On the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the business, he added: "As a travel company we were hit quite hard so we had to go through some level of restructure and this is typically something that you do with the senior team in the office instead of over Zoom calls.
"It was additionally complicated because I was the new person and I had to make some quite severe decisions.
"It was a very interesting experience but I think the fact that we're a tech company helped us because it was no problem to move from fully office-based to fully virtual working literally overnight.
"One thing that helped us tremendously was our very strong culture that has been built over the years.
"That helped us in a big way to actually move throughout the pandemic over the last two years."
The story of a company being forced to cut jobs during the height of the pandemic is not a unique one. Countless firms across Manchester and beyond had to make redundancies.
However, few have been able to bounce back in such a way that they have created hundreds of jobs and have plans to add to their headcounts even more.
Mr Schmid said: "It's obviously never easy and is always tough [to cut jobs]. We had to restructure but I think we really used that opportunity to look at our overall organisation and use that as an opportunity to push us in a stronger position in a post-pandemic environment.
"We changed some of our focus areas and our roadmaps, as well as on the product side, and really used that chance to invest in organisational capabilities and improve our platforms.
"We did a lot of foundational work so once businesses were back we were in a better position to react. I think we did that quite successfully.
"We're always creating jobs. We did that before the pandemic and afterwards because we're a massively fast-growing business.
"For this year to date we hired 300 more people in Manchester and we still have around 60 vacancies that we need to fill by the end of the year.
"We're in massive growth mode and from that point of view the pandemic was a pause but the overall three to five-year focus did not change at all.
Matthias Schmid of Booking.com looking over the company's future headquarters at Manchester Goods Yard
A common challenge that businesses are facing at the moment is the fierce competition to hire the best talent.
Technology companies appear to be locked in the biggest battles to try and attract the top candidates to their firms.
With Manchester being one of the biggest technology hubs in the UK, Booking.com has its work cut out.
Mr Schmid said: "We compete with technology companies for hiring. I think we have a very attractive proposition and travel is a very exciting industry.
"I have spent my entire career in the travel industry because it is exciting and it's very international and dynamic.
"Our key focus right now, and this is where Manchester is playing a significant role, is our investment into building the connective trip.
"What we mean by that is that we don't only want to be a platform to sell accommodation but we actually also want to sell them things like flights, car rental, airport taxis and attractions. We're also building an insurance business as well.
"It's exciting but we're trying to solve the most complicated problem in travel."
"The biggest challenge is really finding talent. That is by far the biggest challenge but I think we have a very attractive employee proposition.
"We pay fairly well, we have pretty good benefits, good health insurance coverage and travel benefits.
"We think that we are a very attractive employer and ultimately will become even more attractive when we finally move into our new head office in Manchester."
Booking.com is also on track to relocate to a new headquarters at Manchester Goods Yard in Enterprise City in November this year.
Mr Schmid added that: "Everything so far is going according to plan and we're quite confident that we can stick to that timeplan."
Booking.com is expected to move to Manchester Goods Yard in November 2022
Each industry was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in different ways. That also means that each industry is recovering at different rates, sometimes in ways that were not expected.
Mr Schmid said: "The whole recovery is faster than we originally anticipated and planned for.
"There has been the fastest recovery on the accommodation side because of the focus on domestic travel but flights are coming back very strongly.
"Car rental is also doing very well despite the fact that the global car rental fleet is around 25% smaller than before the pandemic because of the computer chip shortage.
"Booking patterns are normalising now. As we started to come out of the pandemic there was a lot of short-term demand and that was quite challenging but now we are actually seeing the patterns to be more in line that what we saw before the pandemic.
"The big question mark is what's going to happen in the autumn and at the start of next year."
"UK domestic really gained during the pandemic as people rediscovered that it's actually nice to spend time closer to home but I think now we see a very strong appetite to go abroad, especially to Europe. That's where we see the majority of the demand.
"Really long-haul travel is actually lagging behind 2019 but that's in line with expectations."
Mr Schmid also revealed what Booking.com's main focus will be over the next few years and how the Manchester office will play a key role.
He said: "Our biggest focus is on creating this connected trip where we want to make it very seamless for customers to book multiple verticals in the same transaction.
"Manchester plays a key role in that because our trips business unit is based here in the city.
"That's the core focus to scale our offering on a global basis and become better on delivering the search, book and purchase path in a very seamless way.
"This is our core North Star objective that will keep us very busy".