Africa Adventure Academy - your helping hand in sustainable and responsible tourism development
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.
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.
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 travellers than another brand could hope to achieve.
In 2019 Google ramped up its activity in online travel with launching its Travel Hub, added flight check-in and hotel booking abilities to Google Assistant, attached lodging listings to its Maps function and created a search site for hotel availability by destination.
Then came the pandemic, which resulted in dwindling market share for OTAs, which rely heavily on Google Search advertising. A 60% drop in travel bookings amplified OTAs' existing concerns about the growing presence of Google in the market, and the obvious problematic nature of having to compete with their hosting search engine.
For now the travel app still exists on Google, and the company says it will continue to allow travellers to click on airline and hotel aggregator links and book their flights and stays. Google says it now reroutes users to its display of advertising partners and apparently no longer tries to compete with them.
Perhaps Google has learned its lesson. Google can cannot be everything to everyone and sometime it is better to generate advertising income instead of assassinating its travel and tourism clients who helped it to become so powerful.
On a rather sarcastic not, perhaps Google also has no interest in dealing with flight changes and cancellations, or in providing customer service to stranded travellers.