Speculation about Google’s ambitions in travel first spiked in July 2010 when, for $700 million, it purchased ITA Software, a leading provider of air search technology.
It was piqued again when, in September 2011, Google bought Zagat, the well-known restaurant review company, which it then made a cornerstone of its Google+ Local service.
And then most recently when last month it took over the trademark of Frommer’s travel guides.
Where is This Leading?
Until Google’s plans are revealed, it’s safe to assume that Google’s ultimate goals in the travel space are a well-kept secret.
Then again, perhaps Google was kind enough to lay it all out clearly for us. Google just might be working (successfully) toward one-stop-shop dominance at every one of the five stages of travel it put forward:
- At the dreaming stage, Google already owns YouTube and Picasa.
- At the planning stage, in addition to its search engine, Google now has the likes of Zagat and Frommer’s to help people make informed travel decisions.
- At the booking stage, Google’s Flight Search and Hotel Finder tools make securing some of one’s travel needs easy.
- Google apparently thinks of the experiencing stage as synonymous with mobile-readiness, something for which the company is amply prepared. Android™ anyone?
- Finally, at the sharing level, Google is still gambling on Google Plus, not to mention travellers’ penchant for posting videos and pictures on the same platforms that feed into the dreaming stage.
Seen through those goggles, Google’s got everything just about wrapped up, right?
You Mean There’s More?
You bet there is! Over at Travopia, I found a great graphic that lays clear just how busy Google has been at building a whole infrastructure (often referred to as the company’s online travel ecosystem) that satisfies online users’ needs at every stage of a travel experience.
Talk about comprehensive.
So What Does That Mean for us?
By us, I mean the people who aren’t attached to major multinationals – the independent travel content creators and curators, travel editors and publishers? Is a Google-squeezed travel market resilient enough to leave space for us?
I believe it is.
As pointed out by others, Google’s recent attention to content suggests that, like Yahoo, AOL, Amazon.com, Apple and Netflix before it, Google may be edging into the brambly thickets of media creation. Google may no longer be satisfied pointing users to the best content on the Web; now Google, as a media company, wants to have a hand at producing it.
On the one hand, this may seem like it will be harder to compete in search engine results pages. With its new Frommer’s-fed (and Zagat-enriched) data trove of destination-based information, Google can suddenly legitimately outrank a long list of arguably more popular competitors, like Lonely Planet and its media parents at BBC Worldwide. But this will take time and energy, as the Frommer’s content is in need of more timely and proficient updates.
On the other (and in my opinion, more important) hand, Google may have found a way to less destructively advance the process begun by some of its punishing algorithm shakedowns of the last couple of years: it’s working to elevate the importance of quality original content, or at least throw no weight behind content-production and -dissemination platforms that diminish the efforts and value of independent professionals with limited resources but a commitment to research, in-depth reports and thoughtful analysis. After all, Google bought Frommer’s, not Demand Media. Rather than shutting the door on quality, Google just may be finding new ways to frame it, which might begin to work to the advantage of all people who create it.
What do you think? Are Google’s intentions in the travel space honourable… to anyone?