The launch of Google’s new flight search system in travel has been met with all kinds of emotions from travel companies but what exactly is it and more importantly, do you really need to be concerned?
Our very own Multicom representative in the US met with Google recently, so we thought we’d share our inside knowledge and opinion on this controversial issue.
To kick things off, let’s take a quick look at how and why Google decided to get into the travel space.
In April 2011, Google paid a reported $700m to acquire ITA Software, a Massachusetts-based company that specialises in developing software for the travel and airline industry. A mere 5 months later in September 2011, Google launched ‘Flight Search’.
In their own words, Flight Search enables users to “choose your flight from a simple list of results, explore destinations on a map, and find travel dates with the lowest fare”.
The reason behind the deal according to Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt was because many consumers are currently frustrated with the way to search for airline ticket prices online, with prices often fluctuating thus presenting a frustrating user experience.
A video posted on Google’s website claims the three main reasons for the acquisition were to provide;
1. Better flight info for consumers
2. More consumers for travel websites
3. Bigger breakthroughs in flight search
And with 68 million searches on Google.com each month for the term ‘flight’ and 55.6 million for ‘flights’, one can see the business potential that travel search presents.
But it didn’t stop there…
In July 2011, Google also rolled out a second component to its travel offerings launching ‘Hotel Finder’.
Hotel Finder allows users to choose a city and draw a shape around the area where they want to stay. Users can then compare hotels, rates and book either directly with the hotel or through a partner site.
On initial inspection, many industry analysts claimed their dissatisfaction with Google’s Flight Search claiming that the search results were inconsistent, incomplete and that the booking button didn’t always transfer the user’s travel dates and destinations onto an airline’s website.
So we decided to test the waters ourselves. From the handful of searches we conducted, the options displayed and prices seemed to match up with the airlines website, however on average, around 15 – 20% of the search results delivered an “unknown result” and anywhere up to 30% of the results did not have the option to book, stating “No booking links available. Contact airline directly”.
Overall however, one cannot deny the fact that the site’s fairly simple web interface makes it very easy to use. Results appear on one page in a grid like format below a map showing the route you have selected.
One unique feature is the open-ended destination. For example, a user can type in a vague flight search into Google such as ‘where can I go from San Francisco in a four-hour period for less than $600’, and Google Flights will display suitable options on the map.
So what does all this mean for the travel industry?
When Google first announced their move into the travel space, the general vibe within the industry was one of fear, some claiming that it posed a “far bigger threat to the online travel market than group voucher sites.”
At the TravelMole Industry Question Time in London in December, responsibletravel.com chief executive Justin Francis warned that the new functions “could spark a new price war”.
He added: “It is going to create a massive downward pressure on price if you commoditise product. Power is changing to the customer, if you’re not the cheapest or the best the customer will find out incredibly quickly as they’ve got the information to do that”.
On the other hand, Robert Birge, chief marketing officer of Kayak (who many claim to be competitors of Flight Search along with Orbitz and Microsoft’s Bing), expressed confidence in his company’s ability to compete, being quoted on Travolution stating “…We believe our flight search technology is superior.”
“We recognise Google is a formidable competitor but they haven’t been successful in every vertical they entered. We use multiple data sources and proprietary technology, all of which helps us in our efforts to provide people with comprehensive, fast and accurate answers to their flight search needs.”
As one of the leading providers of travel technology globally, here’s our opinion on why Google’s move into the travel industry is not a game changer.
Flight Search and Hotel Finder are only for the US market (for the moment at least)
Let’s not forget that both Google’s Flights and Hotels search engines are ONLY for the US market.
Late last year, Google announced that the international roll out of Flight Search is “coming soon”, although it is expected to be a staggered launch in individual markets rather than a simultaneous unveiling across the rest of the world.
Google would not disclose an exact timeframe for the launches but just last week they announced that users in the US can now search for international destinations. At this stage, they have included about 500 airports outside the US but said in this blog post;
“If your ideal destination isn’t yet available, we’re working hard on expanding our global coverage and adding more routes in the future”.
No packaging – just information
While Google are claiming that the future of “flight search” and “hotel search” will become “theirs”, where does that leave the rest of us?
Essentially, Google’s travel search services simply provides the time, availability and prices for fares, and then allow you to book directly through the airliner’s own site. Essentially, all it is doing is pulling together information.
This is very different to actually “selling someone a holiday”.
Yes Google may be used by those of us who want to get from A to B at the lowest cost possible but it won’t be used by those that want to book a “holiday”.
Travel agents who use leading technology such as Multicom’s search and booking system, FaB (Find and Book) and fast search tool, Omnicache, are able to access huge amounts of information superfast to get the best flights, most suitable accommodation and additional extras for each and every customer, while offering personal experience and advice at the same time.
In fact, Multicom’s ground breaking advanced fast search caching product (Omnicache) has specifically been designed to significantly improve search times and accuracy of information, improving sales while also increasing loyalty to a travel agent’s website.
John Howell, CEO of Multicom said;
“Our goal here at Multicom is to ensure that we deliver the widest choice for our customers, at the fastest speed”.
When booking a holiday, let’s face it; there are some people that just prefer to search for all the information and book everything themselves, but at the same time, there will always be people who “don’t have the time” or “can’t be bothered” to spend hours upon hours researching all the ins and outs of their holiday. They want to just turn up and relax (fancy that!)
Even those that put themselves in the “do everything myself” category must admit that sometimes, the internet just doesn’t cut it and you do in fact need the expert technology that only a travel agent has access to.
While at the moment, Google’s move into the travel industry may not be a threat, it would be naive to simply just dismiss it. After all, Google is planning on rolling out Flight Search internationally, so it could very well become a threat in future.
So travel companies who want to get ahead of the game; now is the time to ensure that your online offering is the best it possible can be. If you are going to be competing with Google in the future, you will need to make sure you too are able to offer a huge amount of information, super fast.
To find out more about how Multicom’s products can help your business, visit www.multicom.co.uk or speak with one of our consultants on 0117 908 1250
What do you think about Google’s Flight Search and Hotel Finder?