Following its acquisition of travel software provider ITA, Google’s flight and hotel search products have offered isolated useful features but have largely failed to live up to Google’s promise of “innovation.” Consumers have mostly failed to notice Google’s travel innovations so far as well.
There are now indications that Google’s travel sites and content are becoming more integrated into something more interesting and useful for travelers and not simply “me-too” products — as they mostly have been to date.
A Google blog post today provides a review of recent upgrades to Google Flight Search and Hotel Finder, as well as travel-related improvements to Google’s mobile “search” functionality (e.g., Google Now).
Among the things things that Google has improved or upgraded over the past year are the following:
- Introduction of an “experimental” service called Flight Explorer, which allows people to see when it might be less expensive to fly to a specific destination
- The ability to gain a more complete understanding of flight costs and other features, such as WiFi, in its Flight Search tool, as well as more control over planning complex itineraries.
- The addition of international flight information and costs
- Inclusion of Zagat ratings and pricing information in the Hotel Finder product
So far these tools and services have been useful at the margins but not enough to make Google the go-to provider of travel information in the way that Kayak or TripAdvisor are today (honorable mention to Room77 for hotel search).
Priceline Kayak’s CEO recently told CNBC that he had seen “no impact” from Google’s entry into travel. That may change however if Google continues to incrementally and regularly improve its travel search offerings.
Kayak and TripAdvisor are part of the anti-Google FairSearch.org coalition, which has been urging the FTC to bring an antitrust suit against Google or at least extract meaningful settlement concessions from the company. They contend that Google is unfairly using its dominant position in search to promote its own verticals, such as Flight Search and Hotel Finder. They fear over the long term that their sites will be marginalized as Google fills up organic real estate on the SERP with its own travel results.
It appears however that the FTC will not be pursuing aggressive action with respect to the vertical or “search bias” argument. It remains to be seen whether the EU takes a harder line on that front. We’ll know in January it appears.