Google insists it won’t move into selling travel after launching a destination search and trip-planning tool hailed as “game changing” this week.
Oliver Heckmann, Google vice-president for travel and shopping, said the search giant has no plans to act as an online travel agent (OTA) “now or in the future” despite offering a ‘Book on Google’ feature on mobile search.
Speaking at German travel trade show ITB in Berlin, Heckmann said: “We are not becoming an OTA, not now or in the future. We are working with partners to build features, and one of those is Book on Google.”
He insisted: “This is optional. The [travel] partner still gets the user’s address and details, they send out the confirmation and handle all other requests. They are the owner of the customer.”
Heckmann said ‘Book on Google’ facilitates mobile commerce for travel suppliers because “transactions have to be frictionless”. But he repeated: “It’s not our plan to become an OTA. We’re in the advertising business, which has served us well for 15 years.
“If we were to become an OTA we would be playing to our weaknesses, with [a need to provide] customer support and so on. That is not our strength.”
Referring to the Destinations on Google feature launched this week, Heckmann said: “It saves the user making additional searches.”
The ‘plan a trip’ feature of the new tool provides an indicative price for a trip and Heckmann said: “We’re doing multiple trillions of combinations a day to keep this up to date and fast. That is an insane computation even for Google.”
Heckmann also revealed results of a study into the online behaviour of consumers. He reported a 50% increase year on year in mobile travel search, but a decrease in the time spent per visit on travel mobile sites.
One subject of the study recorded almost 39,000 ‘moments’ of online engagement – a visit to a website or use of an app – over two months, with 78% of these on mobile.
When it came to travel and trip planning, the same respondent recorded 400 ‘moments’ researching a trip to Disney World without making a booking – something Heckmann described as “pretty typical behaviour”.