Google’s Launching of Travel Site Causes Controversy

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Using Google's flight search travelers can filter results by price, airline and travel route. (Image: Gabriella Fabbri)
Using Google's flight search travelers can filter results by price, airline and travel route. (Image: Gabriella Fabbri)

BUSINESS

  • Google redesigns flight section after acquiring travel industry software firm ITA Software
  • Google not pursued for industry claims that the buy gives it an unfair advantage
  • Google develops travel services by buying restaurant review site Zagat and launching Hotel Finder

Travel websites such as Kayak and Orbitz face competition from Google as the search engine redesigns its flights section.

The change comes in the wake of a major acquisition by Google earlier this year: the search engine purchased travel and airline software development firm ITA Software in April for nearly $700 million.

Online travel agencies tried to block the purchase, claiming it would give Google an unfair advantage. The US Justice Department investigated the claims, but ultimately approved the deal. In exchange for being permitted to use the software, Google will be monitored by antitrust officials.

Google must license the software to its competitors through the end of 2015, and firewalls have to be added so the company does not gain an unfair advantage over competitors by obtaining insider information.

Google is pleased with the compromise, although others entities remain critical of the deal. European Union antitrust officials have begun investigating Google’s dominance as a search engine after companies complained Google ranked its own products higher than those of competitors.

In the United States, however, the Justice Department has decided not to investigate these claims.

Google Flights Search

The newly redesigned google.com/flights site appears sparse, with a US map showing prices for a variety of cities from the user’s nearest major airport. The design, Google stated, would make searches for airline flights not only quicker, but easier.

Travelers can search by price, airline and travel route. They can also search by how quickly they need tickets and the number of stops. Unlike competing websites, only participating airlines appear in the search results.

A bar chart on the site tells travelers which days have the highest-priced flights.

Currently, the service is only offered for major cities in the United States. The top five travel destinations, according to the website, are Las Vegas, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and San Diego.

Google’s redesigned flights section is just part of the new services being offered to consumers. In early September, Google purchased Zagat, a reviewer of restaurants, nightclubs and hotels for an undisclosed amount. Earlier in the summer it launched Hotel Finder, a tool designed to give US travelers an easy way to search hotels by location and price.

Key Statistics – Global Online Travel Industry (source: EuroMonitor International)

  • In 2010, more than 50% of sales in North American and Australasia in the online travel category were for air travel.
  • During that same time frame, air travel in the Middle East and Africa accounted for 10% of value sales.
  • In the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, air travel will experience 13% annual growth between 2010-2015.

By Melina Druga for
Melina Druga is an American writer and editor. She is the author of Enterprising Women: Practical Advice for First Time Entrepreneurs.

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