Of course, travel and advertising insiders know that Google already is a huge travel industry player, having become a king-maker ever since it debuted Google AdWords in 2000 and acquired Applied Semantics and its AdSense product in 2003.
Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s senior vice president of product management, spoke publicly last week about how Google intends to make its travel advertising, and advertising in other verticals, more effective.
“I think it is the case on the vertical side that there is a lot of opportunity to get incremental monetization gains where you can further qualify the leads better for the advertisers,” Rosenberg told analysts. “So for example, the finance area and the travel area are areas where there’s a lot of opportunity to do that, so that you end up putting more information in the ad and then incrementally getting more information from the customer so that you can further qualify whether or not the customer in the finance area is interested in a particular type of mortgage, and then you send them to an advertiser with whom they are more likely to consummate a specific transaction that that advertiser is willing to pay for. So there’s a lot of opportunity there.”
But, clearly the early, but too-soon-to-call success of Bing and Bing Travel, may have caught the Googlers in Mountain View a tad off guard.
However, any Google further foray into travel is not just about Bing Travel, the metasearch and fare-prediction engine formerly known as Farecast.
After all, Google quietly unveiled Flight Links, a BookingBuddy-like flight-search engine, in October 2005 and at the time Google officials were adamant that Google would not enter the travel metasearch arena.
The prevailing thinking among Kremlin -- I mean -- Google-watchers at the time was that Google would not expand its presence in the travel industry because it would then be competing with its largest advertisers and that would crimp its AdWords program. Expedia, Marriott and American Airlines would be very angry.
But, as one industry wag reminded me yesterday, that was then and this is now.
The world has changed -- as it has a tendency to do.
Consider that in addition to Microsoft’s integration of Farecast into Bing Travel:
• Orbitz has relaunched Trip.com for air, hotels, cars, packages and cruises, featuring booking engines from Expedia, Hotwire, hotels.com, Priceline, Travelocity, Kayak, fly.com, Holiday Inn, Orbitz, CheapTickets and many more.
• Expedia’s TripAdvisor introduced flight metasearch.
• Travelzoo, which long has published deals and operated SuperSearch, entered the metasearch fray with fly.com. (A comparison of SuperSearch and fly.com is a good illustration of the differences between multi-booking-engine search and classic metasearch.)
• And, travel firms like TripIt, Kayak’s TravelPost, TripAdvisor and FareCompare, with its more than 170 Twitter accounts, are getting their social-media game-faces on.
The days when Google had to be overly concerned that entering the travel sphere in a deeper way would alienate its advertisers are long gone. Just look at Trip.com, BookingBuddy, igoUgo, BingTravel, TripAdvisor -- the list is endless -- to see incestuous travel industry advertisers participating in their competitors’ products and playing click arbitrage.
So, with a huge proportion of vacation planning and booking beginning with Google search, what will Google do next in travel?
I don’t think it will launch an online agency and become another Expedia. After all, the online agency business model is under pressure and that’s why we now call them online travel companies.
They are edging away from over-reliance on the needle-in-a-haystack endeavor of trying to convert hordes of travel lookers into bookers and are ratcheting up their media/advertising businesses. See Trip.com as the most recent effort.
Google could buy a Kayak or another metasearch company to bring Google's travel offering up to speed to compete against Microsoft’s Bing and Bing Travel.
But, with all of that brain power in Google Labs, it might not need to buy anything. After all, Google has operated Flight Links for years, and certainly has the know-how to do something special on its own in travel or travel metasearch.
A third path for Google would be to accelerate the development of its travel apps like Flight Links, City Tours and Favorite Places, monetize the hell out of them and roll them up into something new, as-yet-undefined and very Web 3.0-ish.
Whatever path Google takes to further develop its travel offering, one thing is certain: With apologies to Kayak and Bing Travel, there will be no debate that Google's offering indeed will have its own "look and feel."