Tourists look at a mobile phone as they stand at an observation point overlooking the Dome of the Rock and Jerusalem's Old City December 10, 2017. Picture taken December 10, 2017.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Agoda, one of the world’s fastest-growing online travel booking platforms, is aiming to significantly increase its operations in Israel.
Headquartered in Singapore and owned by American Internet travel giant Booking Holdings, Agoda has long-dominated the Asia Pacific online travel industry. Now, the company is seeking to expand globally and has set its sights on investing in opportunities in Israel and Europe.
Promising best price guarantees and significant discounts on accommodation and travel, Agoda’s DNA is already dominated by Israeli technology and innovation. In 2014, Booking Holdings, formerly the Priceline Group, acquired Qlika, an Israeli start-up enabling advertisers to optimize their campaigns.
Today, Agoda employs approximately 100 Israelis – primarily engineers – at its operational headquarters in Bangkok, in addition to a team of data scientists at its Tel Aviv office. The company’s chief operating officer, chief technology officer and vice-president of data are all Israelis who have relocated to Bangkok since the Qlika acquisition.
“We are going to invest in Europe and Israel, as we see areas of great opportunity there,” Agoda chief operating officer Omri Morgenshtern told The Jerusalem Post during a recent visit to Israel.
“As an Israeli, I would love to grow the footprint of Agoda here. It would be very meaningful for me,” said Morgenshtern, adding that the company is currently looking to expand its Israeli operations on three fronts.
Firstly, Agoda aims to expand its Tel Aviv-based data science team, a critical branch of the company’s operations given the reliance of travel booking platforms on scouring large volumes of data for the best deals.
Secondly, Agoda wants to increase its number of sales in Israel, not just in terms of bookings but also in directly-contracted properties on its platform, where it has previously relied considerably on external suppliers.
Finally, enthused by the acquisition of Qlika, Agoda is eager to purchase additional start-ups in the Israeli market.
“We are always here trying to meet companies, trying to find something unique that we can buy and bring in,” said Morgenshtern.
“Since the Qlika acquisition, our sister company Booking.com acquired Israeli company Evature, but we haven’t found a good match. We intend to grow those efforts, potentially even to find someone to scout constantly because we are aware of the start-up ecosystem here.”
Morgenshtern attributes much of Agoda’s rapid growth to Israeli influences within the company, not just in terms of technical ability but also due to their contribution to the company’s work culture.
“There are things that Israelis do very well. We are very straightforward and straight-talking, and we always tell the chief executive the reality, which is good,” he said.
“On the other hand, Israelis tend to have issues at scale. While talking face-to-face is good, leading a large company is different. We have lots of different cultures in the business, each one leads differently and we learn a lot. There’s a nice mixture of our directness and the leadership scale that other cultures bring to the table.”
Given Agoda’s expertise in the Asian travel market, Morgenshtern hopes to increase the number of Israelis using their platform, especially given the attractiveness of the continent for post-army Israeli travelers.
According to 2018 booking data supplied by the company, Thailand and Japan were among the three most popular country destinations for Agoda travelers originating from Israel.
“Israelis cannot live with the fact that someone has got a better deal than them and we understand them, because we’re Israelis. That’s why there’s a good match between Agoda and the Israeli audience,” said Morgenshtern.
“I think we have very good deals, and I welcome Israelis to come and compare. If we don’t have the best deal, they can call us and we’ll give them the best deal. If you are going to Asia and you’re not using Agoda, then you’re leaving money on the table.”
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