Google and ITA: What It Means for Travel Agents

 

The Google-ITA deal could deliver potential benefits--and threats--to travel agents.

Now that Google’s $700-million acquisition of travel technology software provider ITA Software has been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)—albeit not without some major strings attached—many industry observers are wondering what the deal means for the travel industry, especially travel agents.
 
Travel Agent recently spoke to Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst for Forrester Research, for his thoughts on the acquisition. According to Harteveldt, the Google-ITA deal is indeed a “game changer” and poses a major opportunity for agents to cash in on the online travel market.
 
“This certainly means that Google will play an even larger role in travel selling, and not necessarily as an agent but the role of helping consumers find travel products and services,” he said. “Depending on the agency and how smart they are and what Google does, this could be good, or it could be a major threat to travel agencies.”
 
Many, including ITA Software clients such as Kayak and Orbitz, expressed major concerns about the deal when it was first announced in July 2010, especially with the potential for the world’s No.1 search engine to monopolize the online travel market. The DOJ decision, however, enacted strict regulations designed to prevent Google from breaking antitrust laws.
 
Robert Birge, chief marketing officer for online travel site Kayak, told Travel Agent that Kayak is “very pleased” with the DOJ’s complex ruling to protect ITA’s current clients.
 
Harteveldt said it’s still too early to tell exactly what kind of an impact the deal will have. He did, however, stress that the acquisition could benefit Internet-savvy travel agents with the introduction of new advertising products, as well as tools that can help agents better understand consumer behavior and intention via search engine optimization and researching key words.
 
Conversely, however, Harteveldt also expressed concerns about Google’s intentions.
 
“Google’s objective, obviously, is to have more people spend more time on more of their pages, and that could be a threat to agencies … I wonder, will Google be dictating how travel agencies reach their customers online?”
 
The bottom line? Agents need to keep a close watch for future developments.
 
“The Google-ITA merger is not something that’s only going to affect online travel agencies, suppliers and metasearch sites,” said Harteveldt. “There will be an impact on the offline travel agent, too … It’s about how [agents] can better use technology to better serve [their] businesses and better serve [their] clients.”

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