Exclusive: Booking.com reveals plans to make Manchester its UK HQ and “hire in a big way”
Online travel giant Booking.com plans to ‘revolutionise’ the travel industry as it prepares to move into its new UK headquarters in Manchester.
Booking.com announced plans back in 2018 to make Manchester its global hub for transport, representing a £100m investment over 10 years in the region.
The company is now “on track” to move into its new UK headquarters in November, based at Manchester Goods Yard in Enterprise City.
Since the initial announcement, and a pandemic that plunged the travel sector into turmoil, the firm has bounced back at pace and has been on a hiring spree this year. Already recruiting 300 employees for its Manchester office, the firm has an additional 60 jobs left to fill.
“We plan on continuing to invest and hire in a big way in the North West,” Austin Sheppard, VP of Engineering, told Prolific North in an exclusive interview.
“We are waving our flag, planting it in the ground and saying boldly to the world Manchester is our headquarters for Booking.com. This is not just a regional office, a satellite office for us, this is the second biggest location for employees at Booking.com worldwide.”
In June last year, Sheppard, who is originally from the US, relocated with his family from China and now calls Manchester “home”.
He spent 10 years living and working in China, where he was Chief Technology Officer at global ticket platform StubHub and previously Amazon, where he built and led the engineering teams.
At Booking.com, he is building out the new Trips Business Unit in Manchester, which includes every part of travel aside from accommodation, including rental cars, transfers to attractions.
“My remit is the engineering part of building out the connected trip in everything but the stay at Booking.
“In the last two years since we formed this business group, we put a big strategy on making sure that Booking.com becomes not only a full-service online travel agency, but also allows us to connect those trips together.
“Coming to a company that's already a leader in travel, but has a pretty big problem still to build, there's a big gap in the product market when it comes to the connected trip.
“Nobody is really doing it very well, that's an opportunity for us as a leader to still revolutionise the travel industry once again and build something meaningful for customers and meaningful for technologists as well.”
The new global HQ in Manchester will build on the firm’s existing presence in the region.
“Manchester is an amazing place for Booking.com to have a headquarters for its Trips business unit. We originated here through a strong business that was built up regionally - Travel Jigsaw - which became Bookings’ rental car business [Rentalcars.com].
“We've leaned in and invested further in Manchester as a base for us to build out more parts of booking in the trip. Why is that? Manchester has [an] amazing tie to innovation and technology and industry in its history.”
‘Strategic’ importance of Manchester location, talent and investment
He praised Manchester as a “magnet” of technology talent, with its strong ties to universities and history in the world of computer science with the likes of Alan Turing.
“Technology and innovation is in the DNA of the city and of the region,” he explained.
Geographically, he explained the new HQ in Manchester is “very well located” for commuting via a plane trip or train ride to its corporate headquarters in Amsterdam or other locations it has across the UK.
“We’re super excited,” he said on the move to the new office. “It’s a really big deal. Not only for us - but for the city.”
Booking.com currently employs 1,057 staff in Manchester, and the new headquarters will have capacity for up to 2,000 staff.
“Our opportunity in Manchester and within Trips is really to evolve Booking.com into a full-service online travel agency and be something that's not just the best destination for customers to book a hotel room, but the best destination for them to manage an entire trip.
“We've got the anchors of that business in our rental car and transportation business already built up here in Manchester over the last several years, it spans over a decade that we've got that.
“We're not building on something that's new technology or product wise but the amount of focus and strategic importance for Booking.com, as well as what it's going to unlock for our customers, is absolutely new.”
Tapping into tech talent to become the largest tech employer in the city is key for the ecommerce giant. He explained Booking.com has been doing this through a mixture of apprenticeships, partnering with local organisations, and utilising initiatives through Tech Returners, a programme designed to remove barriers for tech professionals returning to the industry.
Working alongside universities in the region such as the University of Manchester, the firm is hiring students as part of a two-year training cohort to equip them with the skills needed to be “future, growing engineering career colleagues at Booking.com”.
“The North West is the perfect area for us to be able to do things like this. It's got the people, it's got the resources, it's got the local community groups and universities that make for an amazing community partnership to grow our people base.”
He is not the only employee to relocate to Manchester for his role at Booking.com, he has just hired a director of data engineering to join his team who will be relocating to Manchester from India.
“It’s amazing that not only do we have an incredible regional tech base of talent but we're also able to attract the best and the brightest from all over the world to come here, to Manchester, because this is such a great place to live and to build a career.”
On the future of the company in the city, aside from a big representation at regional events such as at Manchester Pride - he can’t wait to move into the new office.
“It’s going to be a public announcement to the world that Booking.com is investing so heavily in Manchester, and doing it long-term.”