These rumours about Google supposedly buying Opodo are great fun. Unlikely, but fun.
I remember a couple of years back when anyone writing about Google getting into travel was constantly knocked back by execs from Mountain View to the Googleplex in London.
Remember, we used to go on about Troogle? Then we heard (on reasonable reporting) that Google was looking to buy Farecast (prior to Microsoft buying it and incorporating the service into Bing).
Okay, so that never happened but now we have the proposed acquisition of Google-ITA Software. Big.
But something has been bugging me about these deals for a while. Farecast isn’t ITA (although, ironically, is powered by ITA). ¬†While both on the surface may look like they give great flight data they both come from different sides of the equation.
Farecast were always on the side of the consumer – they said don’t buy now, buy later (upsetting airlines in the process). ITA, while not exactly the darling of the wider travel industry, seem much more on the industry side than, say, TripAdvisor (which pretty much helps consumers exclusively).
So whatever Google is doing it seems it is focussed on helping the industry. This is understandable – they could deliver a¬†mediocre consumer proposition (the competitors are good, but don’t own travel consumer traffic so are¬†disadvantaged).
A mediocre consumer proposition owning “free” travel-focussed web traffic would deliver a great revenue. No need for doing something exceptional or game-changing.
On the media model the customers Google would really care about are the companies buying the adverts. On the transactional model (eg. buying Opodo) they would need to care about consumers quite a lot more. Consumers would deliver the revenue directly.
In reality, of course, consumers have the money and wear the trousers (pants, for our North American readers!).
Long term, if Google slightly favours the trade (whatever it says) then this leaves a tiny crack for a new entrant to take the consumer perspective. Maybe Bing, with its consumer-friendly Farecast heritage, could be that company.
Enough¬†talk about elephants in the room. Instead, what would happen if Google took the same approach to the travel sector as for example it has ¬†taken to other areas it has recently moved into.
Rather than these multi-gazillion dollar, trade-friendly transactions, how about building a new industry from ten-plus startups that either take the consumer perspective or are part of the supply jigsaw.
We know Google runs “invite-only” events for travel startups, so are aware who they are (although always slightly miffed that my invitation goes missing the post, apparently!)
The question stands. Either Google goes 100% taking the consumer perspective (aggressively¬†helping consumers at the cost of their supplier relationships) or it goes down the media model, helping-the-trade route. The nuances of doing both are too tricky for a non-travel specialist maintaining a single brand.
If Google doesn’t head down the consumer backing route then this leaves a hole. It might be a tiny hole but it will be one that Bing plus many startups can attack it on.
Taking this point of view, buying Opodo (revenue generated by consumers) may not be quite such a mad idea after all.