If you’re guaranteeing the best price on a hotel, you need a lot of math and big data working in the background to ensure that you are not going to be one-upped by a discounter whose cheaper price on a booking might require you to refund some cash. Agoda.com, a subsidiary of international travel site Priceline, offers such a guarantee – and to supply the big data and math needed to ensure that the site can produce the right price, Agoda is turning to Israeli talent.
In a LinkedIn posting, Agoda said that it was seeking to hire for its new Tel Aviv “research center of excellence. We are looking for top notch talent to join us. This is a very senior role, where you will be working on some of the toughest challenges within the Data Science team.”
Earlier this year, Priceline acquired Israeli advertising technology start-up Qlika, and was impressed enough with what it found there that it has decided to expand its footprint in Israel, a source in the travel industry told The Times of Israel. “Priceline is looking to invest more in their talent acquisition in Israel for all of portfolio companies,” the source said. “Travel site Booking.com already has an office here, and Kayak, another travel site, may be next.”
Agoda.com is a booking site that offers its service in 38 languages and covers the gamut of accommodations. Originally a start-up located in Bangkok, Agoda was acquired by Priceline in 2011 to enable it to quickly expand into the Asian accommodation market. Market analysts say the acquisition has been very helpful to Priceline’s bottom line, assisting the company in increasing market share in the very competitive online accommodation booking space.
One of the factors that has made Agoda popular is its lowest price guarantee – meaning that if you book a room through the site and get a cheaper offer from another bona fide website, Agoda will either match that rate or beat it. While many companies offer that kind of guarantee for all sorts of products and services, not all live up to it – but according to the general consensus in online travel forums, Agoda does.
Nobody retailer – or website – likes to give back money once it’s been paid, if only because of the hassle, paperwork, and extra expense (processing fees, etc.) involved, so to prevent that, Agoda needs to ensure that it produces the right price the first time. That requires a deep analysis of lots of data – competing prices online and off, weather trends (bad weather could depress prices on specific days), what the latest hot vacation spots are, calendar events (if there are any festivals/conventions/holidays coming up), labor issues (potential airline/train/staff strikes in a location), news-related events (unrest, political tension), and a thousand other details. All those factors go into the price Agoda presents for a booking, correlated, of course, with the hotel’s seasonal pricing policies, features of the stay (bed/breakfast, full board, etc.), and other hotel or location-specific information.
Clearly, an Excel spreadsheet isn’t going to do the trick. Big data analytics are the only way to juggle all this information in the few seconds a potential customer is going to be willing to wait for a price when making a booking inquiry. It’s the big data capabilities and mathematical expertise of Israeli tech workers that Agoda and Priceline will be seeking in its new Tel Aviv “lead data scientist,” according to the LinkedIn posting.
The Agoda Tel Aviv job listing said the successful candidate will have the following responsibilities: “Apply your expertise in mathematics, quantitative analysis, data mining and machine learning to develop models and algorithms to improve performance of different aspects in online accommodation reservations; Make decisions on whether specific problems can be solved and how they can be solved based on raw datasets; Work with the business domains and develop predictive models and algorithms to support business decisions; Develop data automated systems that convert noisy data sets into significant signals of user behavior and suggest alternative problem solving methods; Explore new technologies, innovative instrumentation and data collection to develop unique data sources and utilize them,” and others.
“We choose people who are dedicated to making things great, who are able to push boundaries, and who understand that cutting edge products come from cutting edge ideas,” Agoda says about itself. “Our industry moves fast, and so must we – but we have a great time doing it.” Israel, the company apparently believes, is a place where it can find those boundary-pushing personnel to develop the cutting-edge products it seeks to develop.