Arjan Dijk

Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer
Booking.com
“No one wants to be pigeon-holed by a stereotype”
Arjan Dijk, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Booking.com talks about diversity and inclusion. What are the best practices of diversity in marketing? And how do you go about building an inclusive company culture?
First of all, how is Booking doing in light of the corona crisis?
‘All things considered, pretty well. The whole travel industry clearly has gone through a very difficult time. People really stopped booking in March of 2020. But when restrictions were lifted, you immediately see that demand is picking up. We had a very good Q3. It’s a bit nervous though, with the new virus variants. We're monitoring that very carefully.’
You have been at Booking since 2019 and you’ve been working towards a more inclusive culture. How was the situation when you arrived two years ago? 
‘One of my key reasons for joining Booking is that the company was already at the forefront of diversity and inclusion. It is really a culture of curiousness, of wanting to learn the culture. That’s something I really liked at Google and I also see that at Booking. You’ve probably seen in the Financial Times that, for the past couple of years, we were in the top 3 of most diverse and inclusive companies out of 800 significant firms in Europe. I feel very proud of that.'

Why is a diverse team so important for Booking? 
‘Our mission is: making it easier for everyone to experience the world. So, you better make sure that the company represents everyone. Also, it's just so much more interesting when you're working with people who are different, who have a different perspective. It can be very productive in the most positive way.'

How would you define diversity? Do you see differences between diversity and inclusion?

‘I have a very broad definition of diversity. Traditionally, especially in the US, gender and race are two major lines in diversity. Whereas I think cognitive diversity also plays an important role, as well as skill diversity. Inclusion goes a little bit beyond that. It means that you're an equal part of a company, and that you're included in the decision-making. You could be a very diverse company but not be very inclusive.’
Companies like Facebook and Coca-Cola have Chief Diversity or Chief Inclusion Officers. Does Booking have such roles in place? 
‘We have a diversity and inclusion team. Booking.com has a number of hugely active employee resource groups. For example, the LGBTQ+ community is called B.Proud. It's grassroots, so people get involved because they really want to. When we introduce new product features like Travel Proud, we do multiple focus groups and we ask for their help to make sure we get it right. We also introduced this badge for inclusivity hospitality in travel. Before we launched it, we checked if we were really doing well. Have we looked at all the language on our platform, in our communications, to make sure that we really are as inclusive as we can be in terms of our language? You will now see that we hardly ever use 'Mr. and Mrs.', anymore, or 'he and she'. It's really not necessary.’

Is diversity a goal in itself for Booking, or is it a means to an end?
‘It's a means to an end, of course. Diversity, for us is: A) the corporate culture and B) it creates our company's success. It ensures that our platform can be used by everyone in over 200 countries worldwide without a glitch. We run our marketing campaigns, product, everything in 43 languages and in some 189 countries. It's important to realize that the customer is not just a consumer, but a human being. We're all a little bit different.’
Is there a difference between brand-say and brand-do? 
‘Yeah, I really think so. When you watch television, you can tell immediately when a company is truly doing a good job in diversity, or if they just said: 'we need a black person or a brown person.' We all sniff it out. I always check if we’re showing up with integrity. Does this really fit? Is this real? In technology, where marketing plays a role in accelerating momentum, I really believe in truth-telling. Are we solving this problem for you in an easy, better, and cheaper way? That's really why Booking is successful. You should apply that also to your story-telling; it needs to be real. We all remember the annual company reports that show actors, not real people. I was very proud of our Travel Proud campaign; it features real people.’

How do you prevent stereotyping in marketing?
‘Stereotypes are complex. I love Céline Dion; I love the Eurovision Song Contest... I can give many more examples. I'm the ultimate stereotype of the gay middle-aged man. But I don't want to be called one. That's a very interesting part of it. When talking about diversity and inclusion, I cannot talk about how things feel for you or how you think. I can really only talk about how it feels for me. There is so much more to me, than that stereotype of the gay middle-aged man. And that goes for everyone. We're all, in a way, a version of certain stereotypes, but no one wants to be pigeon-holed.’
Travel Proud is a really impressive campaign. It basically says 'We filter places, not people.' That's a very strong statement. They're beautiful, cheeky, and maybe for some people quite challenging adverts. It gets many thumbs up. Do you also get a lot of negative, hateful stuff?
‘We did a lot of testing around this. When we showed this to people, they got it. We all want to be treated well. That’s the message we really wanted to bring across. When you see a non-binary person in a bathing suit, you would not necessarily expect that… But what's wrong with that? I've experienced it myself, when you arrive at the reception desk with your partner, and you get two single beds. And you're like: 'No, I ordered the king-size bed. I put it in the reservation.' It's so important that we really help our accommodation partners, that we train them and keep them informed about the latest developments.’
Do you feel like you're on a global mission to change attitudes towards more inclusivity?
‘I don't really see myself as an activist or a soldier. I'm taking it more from the strategic point of view in my company. When I came in, we had a slightly different mission. Making it easier for everyone to experience the world means that you have to act on that. So, we welcome all nationalities and people from all backgrounds to our platform. We need to make sure that we have a platform that works for everyone. That's how I approach it.’
Is being open about your sexuality still a big hurdle in leadership teams? 
‘No, I haven't experienced that. When you work at the most senior level, it's really important that you know the people you work with. You need to trust each other because we're making big decisions; a lot of money and a lot of people are involved. In my recruitment process with Booking, I had an excellent chat with Glenn Fogel, the CEO of Booking Holdings, about being an LGBTQ+ leader, and how I would fit in within Booking.com. I'm kind of a proponent of the statement: bring your whole self to work.’

Do you have to be open about your sexuality? Isn't that a private matter?

‘It's a choice everyone needs to make. But if you bring your whole self to work, then people understand more about what makes you tick. You create an environment of trust. For example, if I couldn't talk with my boss about these things, how could I trust him with millions of dollars in marketing? I am a boomer, I grew up in a very different context than a lot of people in the current workforce. Boomers would just work, work, work, and not ask difficult questions. Context has changed for the better, and it's helped people to be more open.'
From your experience at Google, what is a key learning about marketing in a digital era?
‘The role of marketing is to accelerate momentum, not necessarily to create momentum. When you start to market products that are not that great, not that differentiated, or even worse than those of your competitors, then marketing generally won't work. From my previous role, Google Plus is a good example; overly complex, no one really got it. I really challenge my people within Booking.com to ask: is a product ready for launch? And that's a difficult skillset for marketers.’

It’s reassuring to hear a marketer talk about psychology, about people and emotion, rather than just data. 
‘We have those discussions all the time. For instance, I’d talk with our data scientists about a certain flow in our products, and how to make it easier for people to choose where to click.'
About Arjan Dijk
Arjan Dijk has been the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Booking.com
since 2019. Prior to that he was VP Global Marketing at Google, which he joined in 2008. Before that, Arjan was Brand Leader at Unilever and has served in several other marketing roles.

About Booking.com
Booking.com, founded in 1996 as Bookings.nl, has grown from a Dutch startup to a leading global platform for online lodging reservations and other travel products. It’s a subsidiary of Booking Holdings and is headquartered in Amsterdam. The Booking.com website and apps offer over 28 million accommodation listings, as well as rental cars, pre-booked taxis, tours, attractions, activities and flights - all available in 44 languages and dialects.
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