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Deep Dive Into Google’s Travel Ambitions

by Dennis Schaal + Skift Team
Digital Marketing
Hospitality
Travel Tech

Skift Research Take

Weighing in at three times the size of our standard reports, this expanded trends report offers exclusive insight into new Google travel products launched on November 19, 2015, as well as exclusive interviews conducted at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California this fall. In addition, it includes industry analyst notes that are otherwise only available to clients and banks.

Executive Summary

Google is already the dominant player in travel advertising but now, after four years of acquisitions and product development, the search giant is finally integrating its flight and hotel products. It is also ramping up Book on Google with the goal of making Google a go-to venue for travel transactions.

This report provides a first look at a new Google feature: its integration of flight and hotel products, along with restaurants, into vacation-destination search on smartphones. Contrary to industry speculation, a Google exec says it does not want to become an online travel agency like Expedia or Booking.com, but it wouldn’t mind it if the percentage of travelers, currently 60 percent, who begin their trip-planning with Google, rises in coming years.

This report features an exclusive, in-depth interview with Oliver Heckmann, Google’s vice president of travel, who details Google’s strategy, describes changes in user behavior that Google is addressing, and responds to criticism about the dominance of Google AdWords and Google’s own products at the top of the fold in search results pages.

This report, which includes the perspectives of online travel figures such as Kayak co-founders Steve Hafner and Paul English, a Starwood executive and the former distribution head of Northwest Airlines, as well as public statements about Google and the rise of metasearch booking from the CEOs of Expedia Inc. and the Priceline Group, features a raging debate about whether Google will eventually dominate online travel or whether Google’s strategy is fatally flawed.

The report also features UBS analysts Eric Sheridan and Robin Farley interviewing hotel digital-marketing expert Max Starkov, who argues that Book on Google is a “non-event” for the hotel industry because Google approaches travel retailing as a “side show” and its volumes are a fraction of TripAdvisor’s. This UBS interview was previously only available to UBS clients.

In addition to providing the exclusive interview with Google’s Heckmann from Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters and a first look at Google’s new travel features, the report outlines a key business model difference between Book on Google and TripAdvisor Instant Booking, a difference that is widely misunderstood in the industry.

The report, which examines Google’s new vacation-destination search, Book on Google, the new Hotel Ads Commission Program2, Google Hotel Ads and Google Flights, also provides in-depth insights and best practices about participating in Hotel Ads from metasearch-auction optimization platform Koddi.

Of Google’s strategy, Heckmann says: “It’s a bit different than what the industry is doing, to exactly focus on the needs of the consumers, in particular, with this type of micro-moments world that we’re living in. Hotels and flights fits seamlessly into that [the new destination search]. I think that will convince you that we’re taking this very seriously. It’s just not copying what the industry is doing. That’s not a Google strategy. It’s also not our goal because we don’t want to become an OTA [online travel agency] or anything like that.”

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