Today’s announcement about the conditional approval by the U.S. Department of Justice of the acquisition by Google of ITA Software is sending some shock waves through the travel industry. But at the end of the day what does this really mean? Here are some of my initial thoughts:
- General search becomes meta-search – There are very valid reasons why sites such as Kayak felt threatened by the acquisition. Google will take the ITA platform and transform general search for travel into a response that includes fares, schedules and availability, but this will likely be only the start. It is my belief that Google will combine natural language processing, search and personalization to deliver more relevant results to what travelers are searching for, such as ” A cheap fight for a family of 4 to Orlando that leaves on April 15th at 8:00AM” .
- Google will NOT become an OTA. I believe Google is essentially a media company with the OTAs as one of their largest customer groups. It is simply against the company’s best interest to actually become a seller of travel.
- Mobile will be a be part of the Google solution. With Gartner forecasting that the Android operating system will power 49% of the world’s smartphones in 2012, embedding travel search into mobile search will likely change the planning process. In a recent presentation by Google at the TravelCom conference, the presenter stated that “86% of mobile Internet users are on the Web while watching TV”. Siting on your couch while surfing on your tablet will become the norm. With mobile bookings rising, embedded travel search will also accelerate the shopping process en route.
- Opening the API – I need to credit my colleague Philip Wolf with this concept, but I couldn’t agree more – Google will open up the API to ITA much in the same way they did with maps allowing a flood of third party innovation based on the ITA platform
- At the end of the day, the acquisition will impact every part of the value chain. For example if Google/ITA were to hook into the Open Axis Group API (and the Farelogix alternative distribution platform) consumers could both access the ancillary fees missing from most travel sites today and airlines could fufill their goal of delivering more personalized tailored content from general search based on overall customer value. Obviously this would require some sort of login
- That login may come from the ultimate social strategy from Google. It was reported today that Google’s new CEO Larry Page, believes that Google needs to go “social” to compete. To that end, he sent out a company-wide memo last Friday, alerting employees that 25% of their annual bonus will be tied to the success or failure of Google’s social strategy in 2011. Clearly your Google login will begin tracking your social graph as Facebook does now, but not only delivering general purchase recommendations and targeted ads, but personalized travel recommendations
The next 12 months promises to be an exciting and disruptive time due to this major acquisition.