Introducing the largest travel metasearch engine in the world: Google

Did you notice? Google recently indicated exactly what it is aiming to ultimately become in the travel industry.

Thanks to the new Google Maps Beta and its integration of Google Flights into the main Maps product, Google has signaled its aim to be the new owner of the #1 spot in the travel industry as the world’s largest metasearch.

Heresy (or heresay), you might suggest? Well, let’s first do some calculations together.

The math

Without even third-party API usage, Google totals roughly 170 million visits to its branded Maps web and mobile assets each month, with users on average racking up at least ten pages per visit.

This number doesn’t even include the myriad of API integrations and the massive potential for incremental growth via the recently announced Maps Engine API for the enterprise business.

So, let’s make some rough, but conservative assumptions to put this into perspective.

  • Each Google Maps mobile app visit represents one unique route query.
  • Each Google Maps web visit represents two unique route queries.
  • That averages out to around 1.6 unique route queries per visit.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Out of every route query performed via Google Maps, today there is no public data specifying how many of those involve an origin location and a destination location that are far enough apart for a flight to be a potential mode of transportation.

But for the sake of this analysis, let’s assume 5% of all nearly 300 million monthly route queries would have an air travel option available.

Almost instantly, simply by flipping the Google Flights switch, roughly 15 million new flight search queries would be performed and presented to travelers each month directly inside of Google Maps.

Does 15 million sound familiar? It happens to be roughly the average number of unique searches performed on some of the biggest online travel agency and travel information sites each month.

It’s not all the same… or is it?

True, those OTAs are serving customers that have the clear intent to book travel, while Maps users may just be looking for directions to Grandma’s house.

However, let’s show a quick example of how easy the new Google maps might convert someone. Say you’re looking to drive from Denver to Salt Lake City:

Eight hours, not too bad. But wait. That grey line offers me another tempting option. Fly an hour and 15 minutes, and it’s only $138?

With today’s gas prices, I might be tempted. Let me take a closer look:

And:

Well, that’s pretty darn tempting. And look, not only are airlines represented well, I’m already being led into the hotel purchase funnel on the right.

And so it all starts coming together.

Silly us

Over the past year, there’s been a ton of dialogue in the industry about the lack of traction for Google’s Flights product.

For all that time, it’s likely Google hasn’t cared one bit about the short-sightedness of that criticism, instead focusing on building the next-generation Maps product currently being rolled out by a very proud set of engineers and designers who have invested months and some years into its new, arguably flawless interface.

While we’ve all been scurrying around debating cache speed versus inventory availability in flight search API-land, Google has been patiently investing in a bigger mission to turn Google Maps (“more than just a map”, as its tagline reminds us) into an engine upon which it will usher in the true beginning to Google’s potentially devastating reign in travel.

Google isn’t starting from scratch to build a new travel product like we’ve all been so gullible to believe.

As has been pointed out, it knew better than any of us that the two most popular travel products in the world were already in their portfolio: Google Search + Google Maps (lest we forget about YouTube, the second most popular search engine around, also owned by Google).

It stands to reason that Google Maps just might be the best “top of the funnel” anyone could ever dream up.

Beyond its branded assets, the forthcoming update to the Maps API could be the inevitable catalyst for Google Flights data to also be integrated as a core part of the Google API platform.

Why wouldn’t Google want to open up the ability for long-tail developers to build out their own map-based flights app? Or “apps” plural, as the case is likely to be with over one million sites integrating Google Maps API functionality and data already.

And even beyond the next API update?

Google (always) remains tight-lipped about the specifics, but during the Google I/O keynote a few noteworthy statements were reiterated.

The first was that Google Maps will now be “more than just a map” and a second statement shared a future vision for Maps in which each person has a personalized map unique to their preferences, data and is able to predict future needs.

It’s easy to imagine per the screen shots included above an even more “personalized” map experience as they referenced with the cross-app integrations they’ve rolled out over the last 12 months.

For example, Google Calendar could easily provide the unique intelligence necessary for the travel dates included in the Google Maps flight option to be intelligently auto-populated based on days most appealing to me in terms of my schedule compared to best fares available.

Even when predicting the total travel time for each “travel mode” in Google Maps, where I’m currently located or where I live can help give end-to-end time estimates.

Further, layering historical traffic data to help calculate drive-time to the airport plus curb-to-gate walking time thanks to Google Indoor Maps data could give travelers the power to make even more informed choices than ever before.

If you haven’t taken the new beta for a spin, these bold visions for the future will start to feel a little more realistic when you do. And prepare to utter a “wow” or six to yourself while you explore what the new tool has to offer.

Both hated competitors and fanboys alike agree it’s incredible.

Tolling the bell

So, what comes next? Hopefully the industry waking up to the idea that Google Maps is the name it has included way too infrequently as a part of the discussions on Google Travel’s master plan.

And if this assessment is even remotely accurate, we’ve got the final nail in the coffin coming for a fair number of players in the lucrative world of online travel.

  • Multi-modal? We’ve already talked about that one.
  • Flight search by amenities? I’d start looking at other ideas.
  • Flight search API-as-a-service? The Google Maps API may be your new worst enemy the day its next update is released.
  • Trip planning? You’re better off charging people $5 to watch the Hipmunk mascot punch you in the face.
  • Hotel search? It’s only just begun with hotels. And between places, neighborhoods and the rapidly growing indoor mapping capabilities, that’s not a segment I’d want to be in a losing battle with them over. Perhaps Priceline’s Jeffery Boyd is right?

Oh, and one more thing…

The entire new Google Maps is fully integrated with, and conversely by Google Plus. Every single result it delivers will eventually have the potential to be influenced by your social graph and your individual tastes and preferences.

It won’t be long before your flight results are influenced by not only calendar and location data, but specifically this Google+ data including the notorious Circles which finally may crack the code of segmenting out your social graph into buckets that add relevance to both your leisure and business travel map-based shopping experiences.

In closing…

Google Maps has, to date, not been great at pulling users into the various funnels it can power. This new release has the greatest potential of anything before it to change that.

At the end of the day, there are too many possible funnels for Google to own in travel to list them all in this one article, but suffice to say, with the new platform architecture finally coming into its own that they’ve been planning world dominance around for the better part of a decade, it’s time now more than ever to take notice.

We each have to look in the mirror and accept that for almost every one of us, in some small and some massive parts of our business, Google Maps and it’s 20 billion annual page views are officially a much more terrifying and direct industry threat than we ever gave it credit for.

Whether we accept it or not, we are all a part of travel industry history in the making.

It’s time to stand clear of the tracks because Google Travel and its 20 billion-passenger train is finally approaching the station.

NB: This article was influenced by other nodes on the Tnooz contributing team.

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Alex Kremer

About the Writer :: Alex Kremer

Alex Kremer is co-founder and head of product at Redeam, an electronic ticketing platform serving the tours & activities industry. He was previously Senior Vice President of Partnerships at Nor1, a leading hospitality merchandising provider. He joined Nor1 after it acquired Flextrip, a B2B tours & activities distribution network he co-founded. Alex is a 15-year veteran of technology startup companies, previously co-founding Cruvee, a business intelligence company for the wine industry where he led Business Development. Prior to that, he co-founded FanAxis, one of the world's first fan club management and merchandising firms in the music and entertainment industries. Alex is based in Boulder, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter at axk.

 

Comments

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  1. william el kaim

    I will bet on door to door multimodal real-time booking and traffic search

     
  2. Tim Peter

    Great overview Alex. Excellent points all around. I agree with you that it’s a fairly big game-changer. The only thing I’m not sure about is how long it will take to gain traction. If you’re interested, I’ve posted some additional thoughts here: http://www.timpeter.com/blog/2013/06/11/4-reasons-why-google-metasearch-in-maps-matters-travel-tuesday/

    Again, thanks for a great, insightful article.

     
  3. John Pope

    Hmmm…

    That’s funny, Phil, I could have sworn you were the “I told you so” type.

    http://everything-pr.com/travel-game-online-over-google-slam-dunks-travel-suggestions/242569/

    Your third paragraph starts, “Why am I here telling you this? Quite simply because “I told you so”, only somehow you figured (like always) you underestimated some very shrewd, very powerful, and very far sighted people…”

    For what it’s worth, Phil, I think you should get points. How many, and what kind, would be appropriate? 😉

    P.S. How come you closed the comments down so quickly on your recent prophetic Google PoI post?

     
    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @john – stay on-topic and be nice, buddy.

       
      • John Pope

        My bad. 🙁

        You know me, can’t help myself sometimes.

        It’s the truth seeker inside that always wants to pop its ugly head.

        I’ll be good. Promise.

         
        • Phil Butler

          Hey, you were right John, I think it was the car wreck, the amnesia. I forgot.

          Me

           
          • John Pope

            And perhaps your “tongue-in-cheek” nature.

            I appreciate your insight and perspective – was just being a naughty boy, as per my twisted nature.

            Keep up the good work, Phil. I look forward to debating the efficacy of all of Google’s moves in future, with you and any other.

            Disagreeing is what makes Tnooz, democracies and the civilized world, in general, go around in a cycle of continuous deliberation and innovation.

            Peace.

             
  4. Phil Butler

    Great rundown Alex,

    Do I get any points for saying some of this first? Oh well, never the “I told anybody so” type in the past, why start now. For Google NOT to at least “lever” travel, that would have been some sort of blindness I fear.

    This is not about innovation, not much these days really is. It’s simple execution of logical strategies using existing tech. I think the trick for all of us, if we want to play that is, is to figure out three moves ahead now.

    Just me. Great conversation and post.

    Always,
    Phil

     
  5. Stuart

    Lovely state of the nation article on google maps tthere Alex K.
    One thing I’d add if you own a travco is reviews. I think this is a real opportunity for SMEs to garner good verifiable non Trip Advisor reviews, especially with the new interface

    https://plus.google.com/app/basic/local/111936766578448378272/about?gl=US&hl=en

    Just a thought
    Stu

     
    • John Pope

      Stu,

      Say it ain’t so…

      The “new” G+ review UI you referred us to is an abomination. It’s like they thought of including it in the eleventh hour – pathetic really for the likes of Google, considering their resources and other recent UI refreshes.

      Next to impossible to quickly glean an overall rating – and about as “UN” user-friendly as one could have possibly conceived of.

      But. I suppose that’s what you get when the company’s run by almost exclusively tech people – versus the Apple benchmark of “technology meeting the humanities.”

      BTW, you’ve just provided another example of Big G’s Achilles Heal. Nicely played. 🙂

       
  6. Nedyalko Terziev

    The vision of multimodal search is hardly new. I’ve heard discussion on Super PNRs that would combine flight and train itineraries as early as in 2008. Adding cars (own or rented) to the mix is actually easier than combining flights and trains as there are much fewer providers to work with and scheduling and routing is not going to be an issue.

    I am convinced that what is keeping Google (or anybody else really) from coming up with the ultimate travel search is not seamlessly integrating flights with Google Maps. Google has more than enough good engineers to do that beautifully. The big issue is content acquisition. How do you show the full pricing of the big carriers (WN, FR, etc) on your website without receiving a polite letter from their legal department? How do you display the right pricing of the several hundred of less than tech savvy smaller carriers without killing their web servers with search requests?

     
    • Daniele Beccari

      (Side note – we’ve introduced Super PNR combining flight and train + non-GDS hotels on Amadeus e-Travel Management in 2004. Glad you heard discussions about it in 2008.)

       
      • Nedyalko Terziev

        Thanks for the heads up, Daniele- that reinforces the point I was trying to make about multimodal search not being a new concept. Executing a vision- well, that’s a whole new ballgame.

         
  7. Daniele Beccari

    There is one area where our industry could fight back and that’s with the tons of exclusive, private data we all have in our systems combined. The problem is that Google is 1 and we are thousands, each one scared to have their own little cheese stolen by the next in line.

     
    • John Pope

      Daniele’s got it… mostly.

      Now, if only there was a way to make that scenario happen, in order to level the playing field.

      I wonder… 😉

      “Beauty, is the purgation of superfluities.” Michelangelo

       
    • Jose Baerga

      Very interesting bringing Waze into this article Greg. In one way or another the three giants (Apple, Facebook and Google) have been involved into buying speculations. I would hate to see Google actually shutting them down because of how it may sidetrack their own mapping efforts. http://www.globes.co.il/serveen/globes/docview.asp?did=1000850934&fid=1725

      Anyhow, the amount of realtime/social data they (Waze) would be bringing into any map process would be definitely a game changer. I’m curious to see how these developments would change the last minute room inventory sales and hotel coupons deals landscape. Hey, hope to see you at Hitec!

       
    • Daniele Beccari

      There is, er… was, only one thing not working well in Gmaps, and that’s live traffic information.

       
  8. Jon Pickles

    Once this is incorporated in the Google Now search why would you bother to go elsewhere? I like the concept of the immediacy of getting results without having to go off to a separate APP or website. It’s coming and we cannot stop it, so might as well think about how to harness and work with it.

     
  9. Jan Souza

    Good article Alex.

    I look forward to a google api for Flight.

    I want introduce my Android app, myTrip.
    myTrip use a lot of Google API and anothers API like Amazon, to plan, organize and share your trip plans.

    Take a look on GooglePlay:
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mytrip.android

    Thanks.

     
  10. Greg Abbott

    Brilliant (and fun post) Alex! Literally spit my coffee on “Trip planning? You’re better off charging people $5 to watch the Hipmunk mascot punch you in the face.”

    Couple points: “Flight search API-as-a-service” – would you predict a similar API cost model ~ limits to free at 25k/day? Implications for innovators/startups to access free / low cost air search is a big plus…if this happens, how, if at all, do you think the GDS would respond to this – outside of perhaps paying to watch Hipmunk mascot?

    Mobile map searches seem like a very different bucket, where I would imagine many like myself use it for local nav but your point is well taken on the overall math implications, I just think 5% (for now) is a stretch certainly including that bucket.

    Going to check the beta now! great analysis, thanks!

     
  11. Key to the Rockies

    It doesn’t surprise me that Google has the travel industry wrapped around another finger, just looking for them to “connect the dots” when it comes to linking their products.

     
  12. Jim

    yes Alex, we noticed 😉

    http://beta.costtodrive.com/2013/05/google-maps-follows-c2gs-lead-adds-flights-to-driving-directions/

    At C2G we’ve always believed that maps are a good proxy for search, especially in capturing travel intent when long distance routes are entered. As a result, they should convert similar to search – especially when metasearch is introduced.

    here’s an interesting addition to your comment “let’s assume 5% of all nearly 300 million monthly route queries would have an air travel option available.”

    on Cost2Drive.com that percentage is closer to 80% as the average route distance entered is over 700 miles each way, with the majority of users leisure travelers who will be staying at hotels either at the destination or somewhere along the route, or both. Think of the multiples that even search can’t match.

     
  13. Alex Bainbridge

    Great article Alex!

    I propose that the next big money will be made “in destination” (that we are in actually!).

    OTAs that sell flights & hotels have a head start for in destination as they know when the customer is actually in destination. BUT a lot of travel does not include a flight or a hotel……. What multi-modal trip planning tools AND/OR this Google enhancement does is provide an insight for who is going where, and when, to be monetised by in destination services

    So if you stop thinking of these tools as tools – but think of them as devices to complete some of the information holes on who is going where and when…… then the features become much more understandable.

    Alex (a different one)

     
  14. Evan Konwiser

    If only I had a dime for every time somebody said “Google is about to change the world of [blank]”, I’d be able to immediately retire to the Google Opt Out Village (http://www.theonion.com/video/google-opt-out-feature-lets-users-protect-privacy,14358/).

    a) It’s too hard to be the best at everything. Still plenty of room.
    b) The map-entryway to flight product works for a route that is drive-able. So, what, 2% of all air traffic?
    c) Maps is currently not the way people search for travel. Will it change? Maybe. But will take a long time, leaving opportunity for others to scale their brands.
    d) Google is still beholden to travel companies for search revenue, so kid gloves are on.

    The new Google Maps will someday be a superior way to start the funnel for multi-modal search (Not today because I find it slow and clunky, but it’s still in beta). But even when it gets there, it still doesn’t automatically disrupt the air/hotel search game.

    Google has always been the very top of the funnel (searching: “flights from Chicago to San Francisco” to get to kayak, expedia, or united). They are indeed strengthening their position there by adding utility to the Maps product. So a great move for them, but not something that I see fundamentally changing the way we search for travel.

    It may get there someday, but for the time being — I’m not sold.

     
    • John Pope

      First off, this was definitely an entertaining article to read and consider, Alex.

      But, I’m with Evan on this one – “It (Google) may get there someday, but for the time being — I’m not sold” either. In fact, I reckon this is just another move that will end up biting Big G in the ass, one day in the not too distant future.

      There are three levels of knowledge:

      1) Things you know, you know
      2) Things you know, you don’t know
      3) Things you don’t know, you don’t know

      You’ve successfully elaborated on the first – hypothetically speculated on the second – and are unfortunately, but naturally, oblivious to the third. Google is also oblivious to third – meaning they don’t know what lies in waiting around the corner, or what new entrants or how older foes might react to this latest encroachment on their turf. And this is very, very key…

      Sun Tzu said: “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles…” Wiser words have never been spoken in reference to conflict, competition and war.

      Google is there for the whole world to see; yes, as you described, they may evolve, they may acquire additional companies or talent, and will likely continue to create evolutionary innovation. But – and it’s a big ol’ but(t) – they have very limited opportunity to create radical, disruptive or revolutionary innovation – that scenario (revolutionary innovation), in travel, would be quashed for so many reasons.

      Google, as much as it may be a surprise to many, has a number of very real, very susceptible weaknesses or Achilles’ Heals, plural. It’s up to the “Predatory Thinkers” in the audience, and around the world in other organizations, to discover exactly what those weaknesses are, and take advantage of them.

      This latest development that you’ve so eloquently laid out and nicely speculated on, is a tremendous blessing for this humble commenter, for one. I’m sure there are others who will recognize how to take advantage, also.

      Thank you, thank you, thank you Google, Larry and Sergey; you’ve just made my day. 😀

       
      • Alex Kremer

        Thoughtful comment John, and I get what you’re saying. One of the things the article could’ve laid out better is that isn’t so much about innovation – there’ve been plenty of people who have done this (and some who have done it better). The key differentiator, though: 20 billion page views. With that kind of pure volume, we could be looking at a player that gets to change the game on the business side. There are very few players who have a shot at that. Innovative? Not at all, but game changing nonetheless.

         
        • John Pope

          Alex,

          Can’t deny the overwhelming impact and power of 20B page views (if that’s accurate) – no question it legitimately sounds like an overwhelming obstacle to overcome. And you’ve also laid out a compelling argument as to why this also may be “game changing.”

          However, as I’ve previously, yet covertly, pointed out, Google has fewer arrows left in its quiver than others, who can happily and freely fire at its defenses, without much returned fire. Google may, however, be able to reload in future, but their arsenal for the foreseeable future is, paradoxically, limited.

          For one thing, Google is tiptoeing along the antitrust line very closely these days, the recent Waze acquisition has likely narrowed that line some more. Because of this one factor alone, they’re pretty limited to what tactics they can employ going forward.

          US antitrust laws state that an effective monopolist in one product or industry – which Google most certainly is – cannot use that advantage (monopoly) to create an uncompetitive advantage for another product or industry. In addition, the EU laws are farrrr more strict than their US counterparts – as we’re seeing presently in the new sets of conditions being proposed by EU regulators.

          That is only one of many other factors that effectively ties one hand behind Google’s back.

          But, you’re right. Their overwhelming head start may be a bridge too far, in order to overtake Google’s Heavyweight Crown – but it’s also close to a trillion dollar (US) total market out there to compete for, even getting a couple (percentage) points slice of the pie makes for a couple hundred billion dollar market cap company, give or take. You dig?

          And, the recent NSA/PRISM scandal, and the awareness its creating isn’t doing Google – and other large dominant US Internet companies – any favors, either. See this post by David Kirkpatrick for further elaboration on that “ol’ chestnut” here:

          https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130609225334-16549-did-obama-just-destroy-the-u-s-internet-industry

          Definitely not something to take lightly from a non-US revenues perspective.

          Again, super thought provoking article, Alex. Well done.

           
      • Nedyalko Terziev

        (off topic) John, there is a forth possibility: things you don’t know you know. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknown_known

         
        • John Pope

          Nedyalko,

          Please refer to:

          3) Things you don’t know, you don’t know

          I’d argue it’s the same thing, my friend – with a caveat.

          Žižek’s example of inherent prejudice or bias’ supposes that we are aware of them and are certain that they exist. However, I can’t define them (the biases), in order to realize the “unknowns” I actually do know.

          Or, in other words, we all know with absolute certainty that we all have a gut instinct or collective consciousness/knowledge that ‘knows’ certain things, but we just don’t know if, and when, our personal biases prevent us from knowing them. If I don’t know something exists because of prejudice or bias, I can’t possibly then accept any knowledge of it.

          On a collective level, your (Žižek’s) example might stand up under scrutiny – but that’s beyond my pay grade, at least this early in the morning. On an individual level, we (you and I) are still talking about things we don’t know, we don’t know.

          If I’d originally said: Things WE know, WE know. Things WE know, WE don’t know. Things WE don’t know, WE don’t know. Then Žižek’s “Unknown Known” theory would be relevant – there is a difference, for sure. Alas, I didn’t…

          Apologies to all for the pedantic semantics, this early in the morning – I’m in need of coffee.

          And that’s one thing I know, I know – for certain. 😉

          Thanks for playing though, Nedyalko, that was definitely fun – and thank you for bringing this to my (our) attention.

          You a programmer? Or just enjoy mind games, in general? I see you enjoy Singapore, perhaps you’d like London, as well?

           
 
 

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