google
1 year ago
 

Why Google woke up and smelt the travel coffee

Google has never been lacking in confidence – and that’s not just because it has a market cap of $487 billion and last year took in $74.5 billion in revenues.

There have been some high-profile and somewhat embarrassing disappointments on the product front, such as real-time messaging platform Wave, social network Google Plus, and the nerdy Google Glass. But Google – or Alphabet, as the umbrella company is now known as – and its power doesn’t ever seem to diminish.

Part of the reason for this is that it commands an enormous influence over the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people, primarily through its search tools, email service, YouTube and Android-hosted mobile phones.

The company’s influence over (it would probably say “partnership with”) the travel industry is not a new story – with it happily taking billions of marketing dollars every year from travel brands in the form of keyword buying and video and display advertising.

But, until now, even following the launches of Flight Search, Hotel Finder, Hotel Ads et al, there are many in the industry who think that Google’s hold over the industry from an actual product perspective has been somewhat lacklustre so far.

Even those that criticise the fact that Google is said to be biting the hand that feeds it, by building competitive products, are not showing any significant degree of anger beyond just moaning about it, let’s face it.

Going back a few years, even when the aforementioned Flight Search first took off and Hotel Finder first appeared, Google’s appearances at events often triggered a lean towards the (paraphrased) “oh well, is that really it?”.

This isn’t to say the products were poorly executed (although some will certainly say so) or had little impact (again, some will say so), but many could be forgiven for wondering what is the killer product that the travel industry should fear – the one that triggers the Eureka Moment.

Indeed, it never particularly felt, after observing many Google execs at travel conferences and speaking privately with them over the years, that the Eureka Moment had hit the company either.

But there is a turning of the tide, and it’s happening right now… finally.

Oliver Heckmann, Google’s vice president for travel and shopping, spoke at the Phocuswright Europe Conference in Dublin, Ireland, last week.

Sure, he talked a little bit about Flight Search and Hotel Finder, as every Google exec does at a travel show.

Listen closely to Heckmann or any other Googler with some knowledge of the company’s strategy and, perhaps for the first time, they appear bolder, more confident in what their employer is doing.

The seeds for this can be traced back a few years to when smartphone usage started to soar – when it became clear to everyone that the mobile device was going to overhaul how people search and book their travel, and especially how they experience a destination.

Heckmann says there was almost a 40% increase in mobile searches in the travel category in just three months at the turn of this year.

Conversion rates for bookings on a mobile device have jumped by 10% over the same period, with the share of visits to travel websites via mobiles also up by 40%.

It is this enormous shift in web behaviour that has kick-started what could be Google’s most important – and relevant – product to date in the travel sector, and why the likes of Heckmann have an unnerving amount of confidence at the moment.

Trips, the mobile-based destination guide and trip concierge which was released to testers a few weeks back, has certainly got people talking.

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So why does Google think Trips (and the also recently launched Destinations service, which will almost certainly integrate at some point) is such a big deal?

In short, Google thinks that it has managed to combine everything that a traveller normally does on a myriad of different online services, all within one application.

Journey planning, itinerary management, maps, guides, attractions, things to do, reviews, etc.

Google, of course, hasn’t created the panacea travel app – far from it. But it has taken a huge step towards building something that travellers – be they leisure or corporate – might find they eventually cannot do without.

Time will tell; proof is in the pudding – cliches abound, but there is a growing sense from those that are rational enough to scrutinise and appreciate what Google is doing from a product perspective, that it may be onto something this time.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.

 

Comments

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  1. Peter Topping

    The Google “activity” in the travel area is based around areas of content that Google knows it can generate advertising revenue from. This revenue is either form big verticals, location data or profiling. Googles interest in travel, the traveller, the quality of content, cultural issues of any type is zero, other than to the extent that it influences the generation of clicks, calls, eye balls and the facilitation of data acquisition. Googles plays in unsuccessful areas occurred when they stepped away from add/data revenue into the engagement space.

     
  2. Baljeet Sangwan

    “In short, Google thinks that it has managed to combine everything that a traveller normally does on a myriad of different online services, all within one application.” They HAVE. This one’s a killer (potentially!). Especially when one considers the ubiquity of the Google brand. The only thing up in the air – that remains to be seen – is the quality of their content. And that, in my opinion, will determine whether Trips will endure.

     
  3. Reinhard

    Great article, Kevin!
    As Google also is promoting its Local Guide heavily ( my filter bubble? ) they might soon have a critical mass of local experts which who will serve relevant information for travellers. Question myself, what impact that will have for DMOs and Visitor Centers?

     
    • Baljeet Sangwan

      The DMOs’ function is to promote their respective destinations. If Google’s Trip, or any other app or entity for that matter, performs that function for them, at no expense to them, they can all save an ess-load of dollars/euros and put that cash to good use by promoting their destinations through events-based marketing or any number of other imaginative gigs. No?

       
  4. Kevin Mitchell

    Great piece Kevin!

     
  5. Monika

    There are certainly rumors about Google in the vacation rental space as well! Thoughts? http://www.rented.com/vacation-rental-best-practices-blog/google-the-newest-online-travel-agency/

     
 
 

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