Google Flight Search expands as Wertheimer finally talks and Hafner takes his shots
It was a coming out party of sorts for Jeremy Wertheimer, Google’s vice president of travel, as Google Flight Search took some baby steps to expand its coverage area.
Speaking at the PhoCusWright conference Nov. 16, Wertheimer, the longtime CEO of ITA Software when it was independent, made one of his first public appearances since “a little regulatory process” took place and he detailed some changes in Google Flight Search.
Introduced Sept. 13, about 115 days since Google acquired ITA Software, Google Flight Search now covers “three times” the number of city pairs in the US and added a one-way flights feature, Wertheimer said.
In addition to the international focus, plans call for Google Flight Search to integrate with Google+ to enhance social trip-planning, personalization features will be added, and mobile apps are in the works, Wertheimer said.
Google Flight Search, which provides flights and fares from a handful of US airlines only, has been widely criticized for its lack of comprehensiveness and pundits have wondered why Google chose to come out with such an incomplete product.
“The idea was to get something out there,” Wertheimer said, adding in classic Google fashion, “we’ll keep iterating.”
When Google Flight Search launched in September it included booking links from airlines only, but added online travel agency and Kayak advertisements at the bottom of flight search pages about a month later.
Wertheimer drew some criticism when he explained that “our airline partners were very clear” that they wouldn’t participate in Google Flight Search if online travel agency booking links were included in the core flight-search results.
“We will work on the model,” Wertheimer said, and referring to airline demands, he added, “and we work within the parameters” set.
That airline behavior and Google’s acquiesence to it could potentially raise anticompetition concerns.
After the PhoCusWright talk, in his first press interview in almost a year-and-a-half, Wertheimer was asked if the airlines’ demands and the OTAs’ absence in core flight search results in Google Flight Search raised any antitrust concerns.
Wertheimer playfully replied that he isn’t an antitrust lawyer.
One person who wasn’t smiling about the issue the next day was Orbitz Worldwide CEO Barney Harford, who noted that his company provided testimony to the US Congress several months ago related to anticompetition concerns about Google’s role and search dominance.
“We are always concerned that someone in such a dominant position in core search takes that position of dominance and uses it to favor its own travel search results that exclude a major part of the market,” Harford said Nov. 17.
Back in the PhoCusWright conference a day earlier, Kayak CEO Steve Hafner was among two travel executives up on the stage who had a chance to publicly ask Wertheimer questions about Google Flight Search.
Kayak is an ITA Software customer and a vocal critic of Google’s acquisition of ITA, and Hafner started his questioning of Wertheimer like this: “I think you made the year a bit difficult for a lot of people,” Haftner said. “Hopefully we did the same with the FairSearch alliance.”
Kayak has indeed experienced a difficult year, having announced its IPO intent a year ago during the PhoCusWright conference.
Kayak’s hope to become a public company has been stuck at the starting gate, with Google’s purchase of ITA Software and market conditions being huge factors in the impasse.
Wertheimer shot back to Hafner: “I don’t think I’ve ever actually aspired to make anything difficult for anybody,” Wertheimer said.
Wertheimer added that he saw Google’s acquistion of ITA as an opportunity to do so much more in flight search with Google’s resources.
Hafner also noted that Google Flight Search, which relies on a combination of Google and ITA technology, produces very fast results and he asked Wertheimer whether Google would be making the same technology available to its customers.
Wertheimer answered that QPX code can be used by partners in a variety of ways and the speedy results hinges in part on whether partners want to invest in the computing power necessary to save people time on search.
“We’d be happy to sign up Kayak again,” Wertheimer said.
In the interview after the conference session, Wertheimer was asked whether Google will soon integrate Google Flight Search and Google Hotel Finder.
“There’s always experimentation going on,” Wertheimer said.
Asked whether he was personally involved in integrating the two products, he responded: “I have oversight for everything in travel.”
Wertheimer indicated that Google remains committed to ITA’s side business — passenger services systems for airlines — and a deal will soon be announced.
Many have speculated over the years that Google could one day become an online travel agency or even a global distribution system.
ITA years ago had also worked on developing — and then abandoned — a travel agency desktop.
Asked about the OTA idea and possibility of renewing development of a travel agency desktop, Wertheimer said there are great needs in the market and no one can predict how things may develop.
“We’re open to anything,” he said.
Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.