Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Giving users the best answer, and competing fair and square in travel search
Since we announced our plans to acquire ITA Software in July, we’ve spent a lot of time talking with players in the online travel industry -- airlines, travel agents, and search sites -- about our plans to build better flight search tools for users, and our commitment to competition in this space.
We’ve been encouraged by the travel industry support we’ve seen for this acquisition -- from airlines, online travel agencies, and also ITA’s competitors. Even longtime travel guru Arthur Frommer has weighed in. That said, it’s disappointing that a number of travel companies have today announced their concerns about the deal.
Our reason for making this acquisition is simple: ITA will help us provide better results for our users. When someone searches for “flights from San Francisco to London,” we'd like to provide not just “ten blue links” but exact flight times and prices as well -- just as our competitors do today.
We’ve already been experimenting with similar results in different areas. For example, in March we began showing hotel prices in Google Maps -- information which not only makes travel planning and budgeting easier for our users, but also improves the quality of the leads we send to travel websites and hotels:
In terms of the criticisms that have been made today, while we respect the views of these companies there are a few important areas where we need to set the record straight:
Claim: The deal could result in higher travel prices or fewer travel choices for consumers.
Fact: ITA and Google are not competitors so there will not be less choice for consumers. In addition, ITA does not set ticket prices or sell tickets, but merely analyzes data about seat availability and fares -- which are set by airlines -- and provides that analysis to websites. So it’s hard to see why it would result in higher prices. In fact, by acquiring ITA we hope to build flight comparison tools that make it easier for users to compare prices and find the best possible deal.
Claim: ITA powers most of the web’s most popular travel sites.
Fact: ITA’s QPX tool powers many websites; that’s why we’ve said that we’ll honor all of ITA’s existing agreements, and that we are enthusiastic about adding new partners. That said, the three most popular travel sites in the U.S. (Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity) use data provided by ITA's competitors. And over the past few months other travel companies have highlighted the alternatives to ITA. Kayak's CEO called Expedia’s Best Fare Search alternative "awesome" and Continental Airlines noted that "there are alternatives to the [ITA] shopping solution in the marketplace, both internally and externally.”
Claim: Google will be choosing winners and losers in online travel.
Fact: Our goal is to build tools that drive more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites where customers can purchase tickets. We also believe that giving users better ways to search for flights online will encourage more users to make their flight purchases online, which will create more overall online sales for airlines and travel agencies. Google does not plan to sell airline tickets directly.
Claim: Instead of buying ITA, Google could just license its data.
Fact: We think we can make more significant innovations and bigger breakthroughs in online flight search for consumers by combining our engineering expertise with ITA’s than we would by just licensing ITA's data service.
Claim: The deal will lead to less innovation in travel search.
Fact: Just the opposite! Today, finding the right flight at the best price is a frustrating experience; pricing and availability change constantly, and even a simple two-city itinerary involves literally thousands of different options. We’re confident that by combining ITA’s expertise in travel with Google’s technology we’ll be able to create great innovations in flight search.