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Last week, Google announced that they had been given the go ahead by the American Justice Department to buy specialist travel technology company ITA Software.

There has been some speculation as to the impact that this will have on the online travel industry and also Google’s motives behind the $700 million deal. What has not yet been addressed is how this could actually impact travel websites.

It would appear that the main websites which may suffer from this deal are other price comparison websites, as opposed to actual travel providers, as the merging of these businesses would make them superfluous. Nevertheless, there is a level of brand loyalty and also brand disloyalty which would mean that this is not the case.

As a result of strong opposition to this deal by competitors and travel providers it has had heavy stipulations placed on it by the US Department of Justice. The main concerns were:

  • That ITA licenses would be denied to competitors who currently rely on the technology.
  • Innovations in the technology would not be available to other businesses.
  • Google would gain access to the data owned by competitors, through ITA’s servers.
  • Google would branch into travel sales and manipulate search results to drive traffic to its own sites.

Suffice to say that these concerns were addressed. The full concessions can be read on the US Department of Justice website but the main one is that Google agreed to be monitored by the US Government for anticompetitive behaviour which includes, but is not limited to, search results. 

They will be required to report their online travel activity to US Government officials and a ‘Google complaints forum’ is being set up by the US Government to ensure Google honours its commitments. This should ensure fair practice by Google on this matter.

Google has said that:

The acquisition will benefit passengers, airlines and online travel agencies by making it easier for users to comparison shop for flights and airfares and by driving more potential customers to airlines’ and online travel agencies’ websites. Google won’t be setting airfare prices and has no plans to sell airline tickets to consumers."

It would appear that the main websites which may suffer from this deal are other price comparison websites, as opposed to actual travel providers, as the merging of these businesses would make them superfluous.

Nevertheless, there is a level of brand loyalty and also brand disloyalty which would mean that this is not the case. Users are either happy with the price comparison website which they use and this should not change that. Or they shop around anyway; one price comparison website can give you a different price for the same flight as another so Google’s new system will just provide another point of comparison.

This could be beneficial for travel websites as, unlike with price comparison websites, they will presumably not have to pay a commission to Google for sending them the sale?

It will just require extensive optimisation of sales pages for specific long tail search terms. However, we do not yet know how the ‘Google Travel’ algorithm will work. The Local algorithm has different ranking criteria to the ‘normal’ search results, and holiday reviews will most likely be a part of this, as with Local and Shopping.

‘Google Travel’, presumably, will be launched as a separate section in Google as a beta version and will operate in a similar way to Google Shopping. As it is refined and perfected this will begin to feed into the Universal Search Results so that people doing initial holiday research such as ‘family holiday destinations eastern Europe’ will see flight prices and options above the normal search results where they will find websites which can help them select a destination.

If this is the case then the priority over the next few months for travel websites will be making sure that they are compatible with the Google API and ITA technology.

It is very early days and the Google team will explore several options of how best to incorporate ITA technology into their search engine.

Without a doubt the best thing travel websites can do at this moment  is monitor this situation and set aside some budget for potential onsite technical changes as Google’s plans become apparent.

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Published 14 April, 2011 by Alexandra Gaiger

Alexandra Gaiger is SEO Project Manager at TUI Specialist and Activity Sector and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Alexandra on Twitter

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