How Google Has Disrupted the Travel Industry
Many of us can remember the years before the internet was such an integral and important part of our lives. During this time, travel agencies had the travel industry locked down. Anyone looking to plan a vacation would spend hours in these locations, thumbing through catalogs and brochures, and getting advice from trained agents.
Then, the internet arrived in our homes, and it wasn't too long before internet shopping became a thing. Soon, the travel business moved online as well. Online travel agencies (OTAs) are doing incredibly well in the internet age, and their continued success has brick-and-mortar agents worrying about their futures. But now even OTAs themselves are feeling under pressure as big tech giants enter the arena.
None other than Google has been metaphorically flipping over tables in the travel industry. And as one of the biggest brands in the world today, when Google moves, others pay attention.
As the world's biggest and most popular search engine service provider, Google is at the forefront of everything we do online. Google is even the verb we use to describe the process of searching for things on the internet — whether we're using it or not.
(Image source: unsplash.com)
This role as the gatekeeper of the internet means Google has long had a finger in almost every online pie — including travel. Most of us start our vacation planning with a Google search, whether for flights, locations, or hotels. For a long time, this meant that online travel brands such as Booking.com and Trivago paid Google vast sums of advertising revenue to ensure their websites appeared at, or near to, the top of its search result listings.
In 2018, online travel agents spent approximately $18 billion on internet ads and Booking.com invested a third of its revenue back into online ads in the same period.
However, Google recently came to a realization. All these travel companies work by bringing hotel and flight data together on their platforms and creating bespoke packages for their customers. There are few organizations more adept or experienced at processing data than Google itself, which prompted the tech giant to launch Google Travel in the early part of 2019.
"Our goal is to simplify trip planning by helping you quickly find the most useful information and pick up where you left off on any device," said Google in a press release. "We'll continue to make planning and taking trips easier with Google Maps, Google Search and google.com/travel — so you can get out and enjoy the world."
Now you can search for and browse flights, hotels, and package deals on Google itself, removing the need to visit a third-party site at all. Because it's Google's own platform, it can place its own offering above even the paid advertising from brands such as Booking.com and Trivago.
In less than a year, online travel brands have already noticed a reduction in the amount of traffic they're seeing coming from Google. TripAdvisor, Booking.com, and Expedia have all reported a slowdown in earnings and a plummeting of their stock prices — they're keen to lay much of the blame at the feet of Google Travel. Owning that top section of the search ranking means Google commands far more of the attention of travelers than another brand could hope to achieve.
Digital Travel Disruption
Google also has its portfolio of companion brands which help make it even more ideal for travel planning. Google Maps enables travelers to plan their journeys at the same time as booking flights, for example.
And, of course, all of Google's services are 100% optimized for mobile devices — something which is critical for success in the modern digital space. Mobile devices are now used for over 40% of online transactions, and Google is driving 96% of mobile search traffic. 2018 saw mobile become the preferred method for internet browsing with 52.2% of all website traffic worldwide being generated through smartphones.
Google has now upgraded its travel offering even further with Google Trips. Google Trips allows travelers to view all the information pertinent to their vacation in a single space, on mobile or desktop. It takes your existing bookings and destination information and feeds it all back into Google Search and Maps to automatically build a detailed timeline of your trip.
Unfortunately, you still cannot make reservations through Google's systems. Instead, you are still redirected to an airline or hotel's reservation system to complete a booking.
It was only a matter of time before Google put the full cut and thrust of its data expertise into the travel game. The challenge now falls to other brands to come up with innovative ways to try and compete with the Silicon Valley tech behemoth.
You can hear Google Travel's Head of Industry, Matt Rogers, speak at Digital Travel 2020, taking place in May at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, CA.
Download the agenda today for more information and insights.