Google convenes meeting of travel brands to ease tensions
Google has created what it is calling a “Travel Industry Council” in a bid to improve relations with brands around the sector. The group is known to have met over the course of two days earlier this month in San Francisco, US.
Google has created what it is calling a “Travel Industry Council” in a bid to improve relations with brands around the sector.
The group is known to have met over the course of two days earlier this month in San Francisco, US.
Members include senior representatives from hotel chains (Marriott and Hilton), online travel agencies and other intermediaries (Expedia, Airbnb, Rome2Rio and TripAdvisor), tourism boards (VisitFlorida), industry groups (GBTA), venture capital groups (Thayer Ventures), tech providers (Concur andTravelClick) and consultants (McKinsey).
No airlines are believed to have attended the meeting, although at least one US carrier was expected to be at the meeting.
The meeting is understood to have been convened under the strict so-called Chatham House Rule, where the conversation is off-the-record and any material that was discussed can be acted on privately but not attributed to any other participant.
Jon Alferness and Oliver Heckmann, both vice presidents for Google within its shopping and travel division, are behind the initiative.
Whilst Google is well-known for hosting get-togethers for its customers, often at its Mountain View headquarters in Silicon Valley, in recent years, the company’s position and role in the travel industry have changed dramatically.
The company is no longer just a marketing platform so that travel brands can vie with one another for keyword advertising in search (and making enormous sums of money in the process), Google now has metasearch products of its own for travellers looking for flights and hotels, so it now also competes with the very companies it counts as customers.
This has ignited a cross section of views within the industry, ranging from mild irritation to outright anger, as many often see Google as getting away with, in one source’s words, “biting the hand that feeds it”.
The wider world has also taken note, with regulators such as the European Commission having launched their own probes into the company.
Big-spending online travel agencies, in particular, have found themselves paying hundreds of millions on keyword buying but then competing with their hotel or flight suppliers in the metasearch services that Google has since launched.
Such concerns are only expected to increase as Google moves further into in-destination tools for consumers via mobile devices.
In the last year, however, Google appears to have recognised that having its hugely important role in the travel industry means that it also has to address many of the concerns that its customers have.
One issue that is understood to have emerged as a key discussion point in San Francisco is how Google obtains rates for hotels, especially when hotel groups provide wholesale prices to OTAs but then see the same prices appear on the search engine’s hotel product.
There was also an overall concern as to the evolution of Google’s presentation of search results (SEO), with the company’s own products given prominence over those who have worked tirelessly to ensure their products can be found by consumers.
In particular, how links within Google’s own products are ranked given that they are often not placed in an SEO-type fashion but by some other, undisclosed mechanism.
Another topic that leaves many companies confused is the actual operating structure within Google and its travel division.
With countless “head of travel” positions dotted around the world, brands are often at a loss as to who actually runs specific parts of the company and has overall or specific responsibility for different services and relationships.
Google would not comment on the creation of the Council or the meeting in San Francisco.
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