Will Google capture the travel industry?

Will Google capture the travel industry?


When planning a trip, travelers usually browse a multitude of websites – flights, hotels, and experiences – to say the least. Wouldn’t it be cool if a search engine itself could address all these, right? But wait, isn’t Google already doing this? Since 1998, when Google became a search engine, the company has progressed from merely providing blue links on a web page Today, Google is a reality interface that many of us use as an absolute reference. But now, the internet giant is conquering the travel industry. Google has been collecting and building its travel services for years. Its forays into travel began in 2010, when hotel prices appeared in Google Maps. The next year the company took another major step into the travel space by introducing Google Flights. In 2011, Google acquired ITA Software, a company that specializes in aggregating airline data. With ITA algorithms, Google rolled out the Google Flights platform. It was laggy and lacking some flight variety at the start, but it had a number of nifty features such as a convenient interface and daily flight price calculation, so the platform withstood competition. Today, Google Flights, for many of us, has replaced such aggregators as Kayak, Skyscanner, and Expedia. Like them, Google Flights uses a metasearch engine to aggregate flights from major airlines and then takes you off their site to actually book the trip. That’s how Google makes money from each click on its links. And it is convenient. For instance, Google Flights has a price graph. It helps pick the cheapest dates while displaying fares and trends by the month or week. The service is also enriched with flight-insight features like the delay prediction and expected legroom. In 2016, the company launched its Google Trips, the app to organize your travel plans. If you used Gmail, it detected incoming emails with travel-related content – flights, hotels, and car rentals supporting you with recommendations and reminders Besides convenient data organization, Google Trips suggested activities and places to see at your destination. Even though Google Trips has recently ended up in the graveyard of products that Google killed, it was yet another shot at capturing the travel segment of their users. Today, Google Maps is not just about navigation. It has rich trip-planning tools and recommendations that encourage travelers to explore unknown locations and find places to see and things to do. But it’s not only for exploration. You can actually act on your discoveries right in the app – book a rideshare, pick a restaurant and reserve a table there. With Google Trips biting the dust, Google Maps inherited some of its features. For instance, Your places section now has a Reservations tab with your upcoming flight and hotel details automatically added there and organized by date. And Google has more innovations in store. Take its beta feature Live View that uses augmented reality. With Live View, you hold your phone’s camera up and Google Maps will point your way placing arrows in the real world. Yet another update concerns Google Maps Timeline. It keeps a record of all the places you went to. You can now search through your location history by category, such as restaurants or clothing shops, building a shareable list of spots for friends looking for recommendations. These days Google is taking another giant step toward dominance in travel. Recently, they released Google Travel, a desktop website that for now combines Google Flights, Hotels, and Trips. All in one. It doesn’t allow for booking directly yet. And it still works as a metasearch shop where you can browse options and then buy from suppliers. But it’s integrated with your trip history, your flight and stay reservations, and even has experience recommendations, like dining places near your hotel, events worth visiting, and various itinerary suggestions that depend on how much time you have at the destination. And as you’ve guessed, Google travel services are highly personalized. With vast user data at its disposal, Google identifies interests and provides relevant recommendations to each of its users. This is a feature that most of their rivals can’t even hope to reproduce. Google has evolved into a powerful travel arena competitor. Its position as a dominant search engine certainly influences its success and little can stop Google from taking bites out of the travel market share, at least the metasearch market. But travel companies are trying to fight back with antitrust lawsuits. Antitrust or competition law regulates unfair business practices that stifle competition and harm consumers. Antitrust investigation determines whether there was foul play in eliminating competitors. But what does Google have to do with it? For a long time, Google has been criticized for having too much power. Early antitrust concerns began with Google’s acquisition of ITA Software. Back then, a number of companies teamed up to form FairSearch, a self-styled Google watchdog, to protect competition, transparency, and innovation in online search. They believe that Google is abusing its search monopoly to thwart competition. But is it really so? With more than 90 percent of the web search volume, Google can be considered a monopoly. No wonder, there are so many controversies surrounding its search and advertising practices. Now that Google aims at playing the dominant role in trip planning, its rivals claim that Google favors its own travel advertising businesses over other offerings in an organic search. Nevertheless, Google rejects being perceived as a travel monopoly. The company humbly calls itself only an after-thought in terms of travel search, and insists that people tend to start with specialized competitors. But an Expedia study doesn’t confirm that claim. They found that 69 percent of travelers turn to a search engine when starting to think about a trip. The digital resistance movement against Google continues to grow. The European Union has levied multi-billion-dollar antitrust fines against Google in recent years over its shopping and Android practices, but they haven’t tackled travel so far. The US government has been raising antitrust concerns since 2008. Another investigation started this May and is aimed at analyzing Google business practices, including travel. Is Google really an information gatekeeper? As long as it keeps up with tech innovations and provides high quality services the way it does now, Google can lead the race. Unless, of course, antitrust regulations change things. Will it result in radical changes in the Big Tech arena? Stay tuned. Only time will tell.

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