The Google Effect, Part Deux

It’s been some nine months since Google made its bid for an acquisition of airfare info giant ITA, and the story—which created some fanfare last summer—had kind of slipped off the radar for busy travel agents.  Until this week. Now, the Justice Department has approved the transaction and soon travel agents—both online and traditional—may find themselves competing with the very company that provides them with the airfares that make them so indispensable.


There are some stipulations. Since ITA is the software that is primarily responsible for the booking of all flights in the U.S., many other outlets (read: Expedia, Priceline and you) have a vested interest in this deal. According to the Justice Department, “Google will be required to continue to license ITA’s QPX software to airfare websites on commercially reasonable terms…Google will also be required to continue to fund research and development of that product at least at similar levels to what ITA has invested in recent years. Google will also be required to further develop and offer ITA’s next generation InstaSearch product to travel websites, which will provide near instantaneous results to certain types of flexible airfare search queries.”


These sanctions protect current ITA clients and try to prevent Google from becoming a monopoly. Google has to continue to provide software access and new products to current clients at “commercially reasonable terms.” Of course, the definition of “commercially reasonable terms” is  up for debate as is the question of whether any terms are reasonable given the fact that Google might make its intel available to the general public itself. Unlike the Facebook and Trip Advisor “incursions” into your business, this is the big time and a real potential threat. However, it could be some time before Google can offer a flight comparison service as it still needs to get the approval of the U.S. District Court. For now, at least, it should be interesting to see exactly what Google does with the software and ideas that come out of ITA.


While we’re looking at developments that have occurred since last year, here’s some more positive news. One year after the volcanic ash cloud over Europe halted air traffic, travel retailers report that the crisis has left a positive long-term legacy of customers who are prepared to pay more for protection; in fact, agents and cruise lines have reported seeing a sustained trend of customers paying substantially more to get a package that was protected. And that continues to be the big selling point of agents in the current business environment: From ash clouds to earthquakes to transportation strikes and more, travelers need to be assured not only that they’re financially covered, but also that they’ll have a human being to turn to when chaos erupts. That human being is you.