Are Google’s travel services a threat to the industry?
GOOGLE has been on a rampant travel push as of late in valiant efforts to capture a piece of the travel industry pie.
While consumers (like us) appreciate the services the tech juggernaut has begun to provide, industry players are beginning to show concern.
Industry players are saying that it’s disrupting the travel industry, much like Airbnb and Uber has done, and online travel agencies (OTA) such as Expedia are feeling the pinch.
So much so that Google has been called a “major Boogeyman” to the online travel industry.
A poll conducted during a panel discussion at the recent Travelport Live conference in Bangkok, Thailand revealed that most attendees regarded Google the biggest threat to travel brands.
More so than other tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba or Tencent.
“The more channels that Google gets into, the harder it is for us to survive. We need to sell more to get the same revenue,” Nan Hwa (Express) Travel Service IT department e-commerce manager Gawin Tsang was quoted by TTG Asia as saying.
Tsang also pointed out that both Apple and Google already own 90 percent of the mobile ecosystem, which allows these two tech giants to easily capture travel data and quickly get insights on what they’re looking for.
But which one of its services is a threat to the travel industry?
Most of them are sitting right in your Google search results, camouflaged as a neat detail- or picture-heavy entry on the list.
You might not have noticed that it’s part of Google’s travel services.
Google Hotel Finder
This feature is pretty straightforward.
First launched as an experimental tool in 2011, Google Hotel Finder allows users to search for hotels right on Google and in Google Maps.
Specifically designed to make it easier for travelers to find and compare hotels, at first glance, the results include ratings, prices, photos, short descriptions, and deals (if any).
The filter will give you options such as sorting by dates; best match, lowest price, or highest rating; the number of guests; hotel class; and amenities.
Load up the full list of under “View…hotels”, mouseover your preferred accommodation, and it’ll show you where it is on Google Maps.
Once you’ve decided, click on your preferred accommodation and hit “BOOK A ROOM”.
Google will then pull up options from one or more booking platforms, such as Agoda or Booking.com.
Shortly after Google rolled out Hotel Finder, the tech giant launched Google Flights.
In 2016, Google partnered with ITA Software to launch a flight search product, but with booking links that point to airline websites only.
This makes it possible for travelers to search directly on Google to find the best and the cheapest flights.
Travelers just need to enter the necessary keywords into the search box, such as “Flights to Osaka”, and Google will deliver results that are relevant to the keywords.
The results will include airline, duration, non-stop or connecting, and price.
Hitting “Search flights” will expand the list to a myriad of other options including filters like stops, connecting airports, price adjustment (for those who are on a budget), times, customization by preferred airlines and flight duration.
When you’ve made up your mind, click on the flight of your choice, hit “SELECT FLIGHT”, and it’ll lead you to the booking websites.
If you’re not ready to book yet, you can opt to send it to yourself or share it via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter to get a second opinion from anyone.
This is the cherry on top, a triple whammy, and an onslaught on OTAs.
Better known as Destinations on Google, this service lets consumers discover and book their next vacation entirely via a Google mobile search.
All a traveler needs to do is input the destination as well as an activity, such as “New Zealand hiking” or “Malaysia beach”, into the search box and Google will propose locations that match those interests.
And that’s not all.
Within that search result is the option to click “More destinations in New Zealand” or “More destinations in Malaysia”.
Hold your breath because this will draw up an even more elaborate list of top destinations, complete with a travel guide (things to do, when to visit, videos), flight options (airline, duration, price), and accommodation choices dotted around a Google map of the area.
There’s also an all-too-convenient “Flexible Dates” feature which allows users to determine when fares are lowest by refining their results by month.
Results can be customized even further by filtering flight and hotel preferences.
On the side, Google also has an app called Google Trips, which saves all your travel information and organizes your essentials in one place, making it available even offline.
It’s clear how the abovementioned Google travel services can put a dent in online travel agencies’ livelihoods.
This is because Google now works directly with hotels and airlines, which usually have to pay a commission to the OTAs, therefore eating into the OTAs’ space.
More people are on Google than OTA platforms on the daily (or rather, hourly) and Google will keep fleshing out those tools to offer more information and convenience.
How will OTAs keep innovating and pushing ahead to stay relevant to travelers?