Airlines that participate in Google Flight Search have the most to lose by conceding lucrative top of funnel search activity to the search giant, this week’s Eyefortravel Europe Summit was told.
Bobby Healy, chief technology officer at Dublin-based B2B broker CarTrawler, told delegates that Google’s impact in non-travel sectors demonstrates the impact it can have.
He said the search engine is known to preference its own search products in results in a way that the EU has deemed unlawful.
“Google are a monopoly in search,” Healy said, “an awesome company with an amazing ability to engineer products, however they are a monopoly.
“They have demonstrated in segments outside of travel the way they preference their own product. The EU thinks that’s unlawful.
“They are doing things in Flight Search, look at the impact it’s having on meta[search] over time.
“Airlines, actually, in the long term have the most to lose from it because where you have a monopoly it can drive customer behaviour at the top of the funnel and that leads to monetisation.”
Healy said Google’s revenues from travel already dwarf many firms in the sector like Global Distribution Systems, whose technology sits behind many airlines.
“A big part of that strategy is controlling the top part of the travel planning funnel,” he added. “The simple message is airlines should stop working with Google Flight Search.”
CarTrawler works with many airlines, providing car hire and ground transportation products. Their clients include Ryanair, whose chief executive Michael O’Leary has been an enthusiastic supporter of Flight Search.
Healy was speaking on a panel discussing how digital experiences can enhance the physical travel product.
He said that, as a B2B aggregator, CarTrawler does now own physical product but it is using its vast amount of consumer data to tailor what customers are offered when they need transportation.
He said this has seen CarTrawler move into less lucrative areas like taxis, bus and rail tickets because only 5% of people need car hire but everyone needs to leave the airport they have landed at.
Further extension into on-demand transportation that can be paid for by airline loyalty points and in destination activities are planned to give airlines and OTAs more relevant product to offer clients.
Healy said it is only in the last two years that CarTrawler’s scale has been sufficient to allow it to gather enough data to allow computers to work out what to offer customers.
“The airlines we partner with now have a billion passengers a year. It’s only in the last two years that alogorithmically we do better than just human guesswork.
“We do not talk about profiles, categories or customer segment types – we do everything in real time. We use the signals that the airlines pass to us in real time.”
These signals help CarTrawler decide what kind of product to show consumers in terms of quality and customer rating.
And because airlines are seeing much greater mobile traffic, CarTrawler is capturing data on customers’ in-destination behaviour – allowing it to include in-destination and on-demand services.
“Our mission is to cover the entire customer timeline by having an easy to drop in technology approach with our partners and offering every single product that’s relevant.
“But it’s not about vomiting up every single product on a display, which is not relevant anymore. You cannot have anything other than one page, a one finger swipe, to show them on mobile.”