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Google’s foray in travel upsets industry players

Once content with merely delivering most comprehensive answers to search queries from users, the 13-year-old search giant is increasingly trying to spread its dominance across an array of domains and markets, offering online music, local coupons, mobile phones etc. It is not at all surprising that Google’s recent foray into the domain of online travel has shaken the other industry players, another case of the search giant extending its huge market power into diverse aspects of socio-economic life.

Most competitors claim it is overpowering them in Web search to gain a strong foothold in the worldwide online travel business worth $110 billion. What is that has antagonized them?Google started placing its service of flight-search right atop generic search results since last month to ensure its own results are prominently displayed above links to Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz Worldwide and other key middlemen.

  • Random Google searches now deliver a Google-powered chart of the lowest airfares between the prime cities like NY and LA.
  • Its flight tool also links exclusively to sites of the top airlines. Links to top travel sites, are pushed further down; they rely on it for 10% to 20% of their overall traffic.

Booking sites recent Google links

It had already faced the Justice Department’s antitrust scrutiny over its proposal to take control of ITA Software, the flight-data firm, which powers its new tool and of its some competitors, like Orbitz & Kayak Interactive. They had vehemently opposed the monopolistic transaction.

Eventually, Google made certain concessions before getting a final approval, but only after agreeing to make relevant travel data readily available to competitors. While the company was not required by the DOJ to directly link to these travel websites, it did emphasize that tools to drive more traffic to airline as well as online travel agency websites would be built.

Is Google travel hurting competitors unfairly?

Competitors complain Google is violating the spirit of commitment made by it. The latter accepts it has partially failed to keep assurances of linking to the travel sites, but adds it had little choice. ITA founder (now a Google vice president), Jeremy Wertheimer, publicly stated:  “The airlines informed us that they wouldn’t give us (travel data) if we gave booking links to travel agencies,” adding Google still wants to incorporate travel sites, and will ‘keep knocking on that door’ to find out if things actually change.

Of course, there’s not any sign as yet of end consumers being affected by Google’s new features. Similar queries on it and the top travel sites invariably yield the same fare. Meanwhile, Google’s flight search has come as a boon though to airlines, having struggled for long to wean traffic away from travel agency sites that levy a charge on airlines for each booking.  Incidentally, Microsoft’s Bing, with less than a quarter of Google’s user base, also puts its flight-search tool atop relevant results.