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Internet, Travel & Tourism

What Google is really going to do in the travel space

By William Bakker | 05.27.08 | Comment?

A blog posting on the Travolution blog about Google and Travel made me think. Is there going to be some big product launch, or will they simply keep connecting the dots?
This BusinessWeek article called “Google’s Travel Plans” is referenced in the posting. Google’s managing director for travel Rob Torres was interviewed. Torres says “the goal of Google’s travel division is to give users a destination where they can research travel plans, read user reviews, and see user uploaded videos and photos.”
The article also states “It’s worth noting one thing that any future Google offering won’t have—airline fares or hotel bookings.” But vertical search is the new disrupter in travel. Kayak.com will perform 45M queries this month according to its CEO, with 5M uniques in April and climbing (compete.com). Microsoft bought Farecast.com to enter into this space.
There’s no way Google will sit back and watch from the sideline. This is search, their core business. They have to make a move into vertical travel search. They won’t need to book anything. They can stay true to their advertising based revenue model, maybe complimented with a Pay-Per-Action model and they won’t alienate their customers or cannibalize their ad based revenue on their main search product.
Torres says in Businessweek “We are already so highly searched for travel. Why not give them a one-stop shop for travel information?”. Vertical Search offers a perfect possibilities to compliment travel information opportunities. The New Zealand campaign on YouTube has been widely covered, but Google Maps is probably even more relevant. Tim Armstrong, Google’s VP of advertising told us at Phocuswright in Orlando last November that “depending on the day, there could be 40% of the traffic to that goes to that service that’s travel related”. That’s huge.
Google is already starting to connect the dots. Google Maps recently integrated photos through Paronamio (a small company it acquired last year), Wikipedia content and YouTube videos. Businesses can also provide Google with their info for display on Google Maps. And the user generated maps cover a lot of tourism content.
A few months ago, Google announced Knol, a Wikipedia for experts. “A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read.” Here’s Google’s opportunity to create credible travel content, written by an expert.
Now think about Google’s massive user base of Google accounts, YouTube, Gmail and Orkut. Think about OpenID, Open Social. Think about Friend Connect. Here’s the User Generated Content piece, combined with a social network.
All Google needs to do is keep connecting dots and a strong travel product will evolve and emerge. It might not happen through a big bang approach, but simply as an organic evolution of their existing products. I’m sure there are plenty of Google engineers using their 20% pet-project time to connect dots and creating innovative travel related products.

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