If they plan to do with travel what they’ve done with search, you may soon be doing all your travel planning via Google. It’s not clear exactly what the Internet giant will do with newly acquired ITA Software, but just the fact Google is the one doing it has set the travel world atwitter.
One prominent Canadian travel executive says the $700 million Google/ITA deal represents “the biggest change in travel distribution since the birth of the Internet.” That’s big, because the rise of the Internet certainly marked a revolution in how travel is sold.
It’s likely that you’ve never heard of ITA Software. That’s because they’re in the background, “Solving the Travel Industry’s Most Complex Problems,” as their motto suggests. ITA Software technology is used throughout the travel industry, providing flight information and pricing to online and traditional travel agents, corporate travel management companies, airlines, tour operators and more. ITA software powers the websites of Air Canada and other major airlines, loyalty programs like Aeroplan, metasearch providers like Kayak and Bing Travel and online travel agencies like Orbitz and Hotwire.
“It’s early days, and Google has already said that they don’t want to be another “meta” search player like a Kayak for instance, but rather something very new and different,” says Stuart MacDonald, the founder of Expedia Canada and current CEO of cruise vacation website TripHarbor.com . “They will be looking to maximize the return on such a significant investment, while continuing to make the most that they can off the travel category in total, which is one of the most important verticals they have. It will be a fine line for them to walk, and will prove interesting to see what transpires.”
Even though Google doesn’t sell travel, MacDonald says the search behemoth is already the biggest player in the multi-billion dollar online travel space, earning money every time someone does a travel related search. Acquiring the top independent company in the flight search business will mean big changes for the industry and its major players, but it’s not yet clear what form those changes will take.
Google has promised that its acquisition of ITA will “create a new, easier way for users to find better flight information online, which should encourage more users to make their flight purchases online.”
Potentially, this means integrating flight options into search results; in effect turning Google into a competitor of metasearch websites such as Kayak and Cheapflights.com.
The firm has been clear that it intends to use the information provided by ITA to innovate rather than sell tickets, with company executives saying that new flight search tools such as flight tracking and flight option comparisons were in the works.
By making it even easier to buy travel online, the Google/ITA marriage could mean more grief for traditional travel agencies which have already suffered at the hands of online booking sites. But it could also mean major challenges for the online agencies that have expanded exponentially with the Internet.
When rumours first surfaced about a potential Google purchase of ITA Software back in April, industry website and TakeOffeh sister company OpenJaw.com compared it to a marriage of Walmart and McDonald’s. The wedding is on – and all bets are off on the future of online travel.