Eight months after making one of their most strategic purchases in the travel industry, Google have revealed a service that has them strategically placed to put all travel-related websites and hotel finders out of business.
In October 2010, Google purchased ITA, the company that held over 65% of all flight and travel information that agencies used to help plan trips for consumers. Speculation and controversy were rife when the buy-out was announced, as it potentially spelt the demise of local travel businesses if Google chose to publicise ITA’s information. The sale went ahead despite attempts to block it through appeals to the FTC, and the story lost its spark not long after.
Fast forward six months or so to the end of May 2011, where Google announced that users could now search directly for flight information by typing in an example like ‘flights from New York to Los Angeles’. The displayed search result would show the times of flights between the two locations, and allow users to click through to find out more information about each option.
Then, just last weekend, www.google.com/hotelfinder hit the news. I believe that this website is the second phase of Google’s strategy to dominate in the travel and accommodation search space. In terms of functionality it is very similar to what you’d expect from an accommodation finder, minus all the ads and plus Google’s trademark stamp of simplicity and user-friendliness. Interestingly, it has been labelled by Google as an ‘experiment’, as opposed to a product in beta testing.
With the two complementing travel information services now available for public use, Google will doubtlessly be collecting and analysing user data to determine if this market is deserving of more of their time and resources. Given that advertising is Google’s main revenue stream, their monetisation of the travel information industry would be no different.
As for how it would all fit together, the most apparent answer is Google Places. If Google are able to gain enough traffic to their two new services, it would simply be a matter of plugging that data into Google Places to show ads from businesses located in each travel destination. The key difference between this and existing location search ads would be the target market. Advertisers would be pitching their products or services not to locals, but to tourists or people who don’t frequent the area.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think integrating travel search data with Google Places is the next phase of Google’s plans? If so, do you think it will be beneficial for your business?