The second day kicked off with the workshops where various industry players were sharing their best practices and lessons learned. The afternoon was reserved for the most anticipated keynote presentations, started with rather emotional and powerful “monologue” about the state of the industry, growth and innovation by PhoCusWright Chairman Philip Wolf. You can watch it here.
The hot topic of the day definitely was ITA Software by Google keynote by Jeremy Wertheimer, VP Travel at Google. I’m sure Google entering the travel business through acquisition of ITA Software has been a steaming hot topic inside online travel agency and meta search company boardrooms in recent months.
Jeremy was talking about current state of Google travel products and also giving some hints about future direction. He focused on Google Hotel Finder and Google Flight Search products. The keynote was followed by an interesting talkback session with Kayak CEO Steve Hafner and Amadeus VP Denis Lacroix. You can watch the full keynote and talkback session online here. Definitely worth spending half an hour!
According to Jeremy, the Google Hotel Finder is a natural result of user behaviour. Google sees massive traffic of hotel search, and thus has started to offer more for users. In Hotel Finder, user can easily adjust parameters of hotels search including very visual way to limit results to the most interesting areas on the map and to keep shortlist of candidates.
For booking the hotel, Google has introduced Hotel Ads, which link to online travel agencies and booking sites, such as Expedia, Hotels.com and Booking.com. Google also links directly to owner sites for booking.
The hotel search is nothing überspecial compared to Booking.com and Hotels.com. There’s just one innovation on limiting results on the map. For more innovative hotel search, try Hipmunk.com. But it’s Google, so as they have significant search volumes, they add one layer in the value chain and of course charge travel agencies for the leads they are producing.
Just about 150 days after ITA Software acquisition Google unveiled their Flight search using the same technology that has been used by for example Kayak. ITA is working with several airlines to improve the user experience of their own website flight search, and thus has the access to relevant content directly with airlines.
Flight search is still limited to US and lacks for example business class, but according to Jeremy they just made what they can fast and exposed it to users to get feedback. International searches are however in development along with several other improvements.
The tool is very minimalistic in the Google way, but it’s very easy to view the pricing changes over day and to apply your own parameters. I recommend to play around with it! The downside is that it still lacks some content and you can not do everything with it. But that’s also the beauty of it: simplicity. A bit like Kayak.com in the beginning (which nowadays is cluttered with features and information overload).
Now comes the part online travel agencies are concerned with: Google directs the user to book directly at airline sites (with “Flight Ads”). No online travel agencies included in the price results at all. According to Jeremy, this is due to requirement of the airlines in order Google to use their content. It’s significant thing. Google is replacing the online travel agencies. Of course Google claims that it does not do packaging of flights and hotels, sell any additional services etc which means it’s not on the same level with OTAs.
Google has tremendous position to change the industry mechanics. And as Jeremy stressed several times in his keynote, Google does things users want to use. Only then they think about ways to get revenues. There’s surely more to see from Google in Travel (they have 500+ people working on it in Cambridge). According to Tnooz, car rentals could be next?