Regulators have been urged to keep a close eye on the transparency of holiday search following the launch of a new Google product last week.
Destinations on Google is designed for mobile phones and combines flight and hotel search with maps, destination guides and suggested itineraries.
A customer can click on a ‘plan a trip’ tab before being directed to airline, hotel or online travel agent (OTA) websites to book the components.
Google insists it has no desire to become an OTA and will work with travel partners. But an online reader of Travel Weekly’s article about the new product pointed out: “There is no Abta or Atolcover and no insurance; customers can be fooled into thinking that they are buying a safe holiday.”
Travel law expert Andy Cooper said: “The lines of distinction between the different models are now so blurred that it’s going to be incredibly hard for a customer to understand if they are protected.
“Ultimately, a regulator is going to have to do something about all this, even if only to introduce transparency – for example, to compel Google to say on its site that customers who book this way get no form of protection from Google.”
Martin Alcock, a director at the Travel Trade Consultancy, said: “The new regulations [under the Package Travel Directive to be implemented in 2018] will contain a widely expanded ‘package’ definition as well as introducing a new concept of Linked Travel Arrangement (LTA).
“Destinations on Google seems to be acting as an LTA by facilitating the booking process and passing key data on to the hotel and airline.”
A Google spokesman stressed Destinations on Google is designed as an “inspirational tool” only. The firm said the function is not a monetised product.