Phocuswright 2015: Google shows off new destination experience but denies OTA intention

Phocuswright 2015: Google shows off new destination experience but denies OTA intention

Google insisted it has no intentions of becoming an OTA as it showcased a new destination mobile interface that will take it another step closer to owning the entire customer journey.

Oliver Heckmann, the search engine’s vice-president of travel, said the enhanced mobile experience was designed to fix the fractured trip planning process on such devices.

Speaking at the Phocuswright conference in Florida this week, he said returning 10 blue links is not providing users on mobile with the information they are looking for.

Google’s interface, which is currently available only in English, provides rich information, suggests the best time visit, a popularity index and offers alternative destinations.

Launched in April, the product is integrated with Flight Search and Hotel ads and offers the ability for users to research and book a holiday without ever leaving Google.

“Is Google slowly becoming at OTA? I can tell you this is not the case,” said Heckmann.

“We are closely analysing customer behaviour in this new world of mobile. Every piece of friction in the interaction process is costing transactions.

“We are collaborating with partners to make the conversion process as painless as possible with the intention of driving conversion up.”

Heckmann insisted that Google’s approach is to optimise the increased number of micro-moments its own research shows are predominantly taking place on mobile.

He said this is more frictionless for customers if it can all happen within the Google environment rather than being passed on to a third party site.

“We are passing on credit card information but the partner owns the customer relationship. They send their own information, email the user and handle all the follow up questions.

“Our goal with this new travel product is to make the logistics of trip planning simple so people can spend more time in the early phase dreaming about the destination.

“The more delightful we can make the experience, the more we all win in the long term.”

Heckmann said Google was still flexible in terms of how it will monetise the new destination product but first it wanted to get it right for the user.

He suggested further opportunities for partners would emerge citing the package space as one to look out for.

Accused of risking biting the hand that feeds them by Rome2Rio chief executive Rod Cuthbert, Heckmann said:

“Biting the hand that feeds you is not a good business strategy. We are not becoming an OTA. We have been in travel from the first day of Google.

“Users have all sorts of questions that only Google and other search engines are answering. Travel planning does not mean just looking up a flight and hotel and clicking to book.”

Cuthbert said: “It’s all very well if you are answering questions but the industry in large part has been built by intermediaries.

“They have spent an enormous amount of money with you and when we look at the things you are doing we wonder where we fit in your view of the future.”

Heckmann answered: “We are partnering with all of you. The world is changing, the travel industry is in a constant state of change and there is disruption going on.

“For Google as a technology company we are living in a world with similar disruptions. User behaviour today is different, people have moved to shorter and shorter moments.

“They have different expectations about what we need to provide them and if we don’t move and provide them that as quickly as possible they will stop using Google.”

Challenged over the dominance of Google services in search results, Heckmann insisted the ranking was based on what we considered the best for the consumer.

Darren Huston, Booking.com chief executive, said he took a lot of comfort from the fact the Google does not want to do what it does.

“They know we are a huge advertiser, so they want more of our money. They want to invite the hotels in as well because them everyone is bidding.

“We just move forward. We have a great relationship with Google. They are the best marketing engine in the world and we are one of the best buyers of their product.”

Steve Hafner, co-founder and chief executive of Kayak, said: “Google has the financial resources to disrupt all of us

“What keeps me awake at night is they really could have a default travel app on every Android phone.

“At Kayak what we strive to do is have a product set broader than at we see Google doing and also to have a good relationship with everyone in the industry to stay ahead of them.

“With Google what we have relied on is that they are slow. Which means once they have caught up with what Kayak are doing today we are much further down the road.”

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