straddles the turbulent tech sector and the fast-growing travel industry. It’s led to an intriguing talent strategy

May 19, 2023, 12:18 PM UTC
Paulo Pisano, Chief People Officer of and Chief HR Officer of Booking Holdings
Paulo Pisano, chief people officer at, and chief human resources officer of Booking Holdings.
Courtesy of

Good morning!

To say the travel and hospitality industry has had a wild ride over the past few years would be an understatement. “Two weeks into my job, I had to basically make the decision for us to close over 200 offices and send everyone to work remotely back home,” says Paulo Pisano, who became chief people officer at travel and accommodations site in March 2020. “This was the beginning of my experience in the travel space.”

Pisano spoke with Fortune about how he’s built out his talent strategy at a company that straddles two industries: one that boomed during the pandemic and is cratering back to Earth now (tech) and another that experienced the reverse (travel).

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: sits at a unique intersection. How does that affect how you now think about talent strategy?

Paulo Pisano: Travel had a boom for many years, and was one of the companies that contributed to developing and shaping some of the characteristics you see in the [tech talent] market today. One of the things we did was delocalize talent, effectively looking for the right talent anywhere it’s available and moving them if necessary.

Almost half of our people globally are based in the Netherlands, but a significant portion are not originally from there.  

We developed a pretty strong brand in the market, partly because we naturally became a very diverse and international kind of workforce which, in turn, attracted more diverse and international candidates. 

How did the pandemic affect your growth strategy?

It was a moment of crisis for travel—an industry that had only known growth for several years. Nobody knew early on if this was going to be months or years. Like other companies in our sector, we had to rebalance the workforce to be sustainable over time. We saw a significant cut in the workforce of roughly 25% at the time. Looking back, I think we did it the right way, meaning we didn’t jump too quickly, and we didn’t jump the gun like many organizations. We took our time.

We extended the period of pre-restructure as long as we could until we had enough information and clarity on how, where, and what we would do. That built longer-term trust within the organization. 

That period was also a bit of a double hit because while we had to restructure, some of our [tech] talent competitors were growing and thriving in the pandemic. For a company like Booking, with a great reputation for strong technology and product people, retaining and attracting people when those organizations were hiring like there was no tomorrow was hard. It forced us to do everything we could to create a great environment for people to work, support our people, and strengthen our communication channels, collaboration, and learning opportunities.

Fast-forward to 2022, when we saw Europe and the Americas moving out of the worst pandemic. While we’d been building an ever stronger muscle in terms of engagement and a better work environment where people can develop and grow, we started seeing some companies that had over-hired during the pandemic start pulling back. And we were much better positioned to connect with talent and retain and engage them. We started seeing some instances where we got the famous boomerangs.

How are you contextualizing the current market?

There’s definitely been a slowdown in recruiting around the world in most areas. But good talent in technology and product is still hard to find and a very competitive space. In terms of big volumes, I think the numbers are down. But if you look at how quickly educational institutions are churning out technology talent versus how much of that talent you need in the world, there’s still a gap. You have digital firms still generally growing, expanding, or transforming. And you have historically non-digital firms making a move into that space. So the demand is still very significant.

How are you going after tech talent now, especially with the explosion of generative A.I.?

Our conversation wouldn’t be a conversation about tech hiring if we didn’t talk about generative A.I. 

We have already been working on and investing in A.I. for over a decade, using it to remove friction and improve the customer experience. That said, we are once more being cautious about the speed at which people are getting into the frenzy around generative A.I. We do see a number of opportunities. However, there are still a lot of improvements that need to happen in that space for us or anyone to be able to build meaningful and significantly better products, services, and customer experiences.

Several teams and executives across the organization are plugged into fascinating conversations with companies leading in this space. And we are looking to continue the investment in A.I. and technology skills. But there’s also a lot of work that needs to happen in tech that is not A.I.-specific, which is very important for us in building foundations. 

If we just focus on generative A.I. and don’t focus on continuing to improve our foundations, platforms, and building better integration in everything we do, then generative A.I. won’t land on its own.

Amber Burton

Reporter's Notebook

The most compelling data, quotes, and insights from the field.

Nakia McKenzie, VP of compensation and benefits at AARP, says the company is attracting young workers with an old benefit: pension. Only about 25% of civilian workers have access to a traditional pension, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While pension plans don't necessarily strike Gen Z as a premium or important benefit, McKenzie said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference, “If our recruiters tell them it’s free money, that might motivate them to come work with us."

Around the Table

A round-up of the most important HR headlines, studies, podcasts, and long-reads.

- Top computer science graduates are finding the most renowned tech firms don’t want to hire them anymore. Economist

- The tight job market has meant better pay and working conditions for Black Americans. Wall Street Journal

- About 60% of employees say their company is doing a “mediocre” job of living up to DEI promises. Axios

- As return-to-office plans stumble, New York’s record office vacancies could spell disaster for the city’s tax revenue. Bloomberg

- A tax advantage available only to top executives lets them get more out of their retirement benefits than regular employees. CNN


Everything you need to know from Fortune.

Offer she can refuse. A top Meta exec turned down multiple CEO positions to stay in a job that let her have a four-day workweek. —Jane Thier

Lost in translation. A misinterpretation of the placeholder “xx” in an email led to a sexual harassment lawsuit. “Effective communication is not about what you say. It’s about what [employees] understand,” says one executive coach. —Orianna Rosa Royle

Highly employable. Americans tested positive for marijuana in preemployment drug screenings last year at the highest level since 1997, according to drug test lab Quest Diagnostics. Out of 6 million tests, 4.3% came back positive.—Chris Morris

This is the web version of CHRO Daily, a newsletter focusing on helping HR executives navigate the needs of the workplace. Today’s edition was curated by Paolo Confino. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet