Will Google sit on the iron throne of travel?
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Google has created what it is calling a “Travel Industry Council” in a bid to improve relations with brands around the sector.
The group is known to have met over the course of two days earlier this month in San Francisco, US.
Members include senior representatives from hotel chains, online travel agencies and other intermediaries, tourism boards, industry groups, venture capital groups, tech providers and consultants.
The meeting is understood to have been convened under the strict so-called Chatham House Rule, where the conversation is off-the-record and any material that was discussed can be acted on privately but not attributed to any other participant.
In recent years, the company’s position and role in the travel industry have changed dramatically.
The company is no longer just a marketing platform so that travel brands can vie with one another for keyword advertising in search, Google now has metasearch products of its own for travellers looking for flights and hotels, so it now also competes with the very companies it counts as customers.
This has ignited a cross section of views within the industry, ranging from mild irritation to outright anger.
Big-spending online travel agencies, in particular, have found themselves paying hundreds of millions on keyword buying but then competing with their hotel or flight suppliers in the metasearch services that Google has since launched.
There was also an overall concern as to the evolution of Google’s presentation of search results, with the company’s own products given prominence over those who have worked tirelessly to ensure their products can be found by consumers.
In particular, how links within Google’s own products are ranked given that they are often not placed in an SEO-type fashion but by some other, undisclosed mechanism.
Another topic that leaves many companies confused is the actual operating structure within Google and its travel division.
With countless “head of travel” positions dotted around the world, brands are often at a loss as to who actually runs specific parts of the company and has overall or specific responsibility for different services and relationships.
Google would not comment on the creation of the Council or the meeting in San Francisco.