Did you notice? Google recently indicated exactly what it is aiming to ultimately become in the travel industry.
Thanks to the new Google Maps Beta and its integration of Google Flights into the main Maps product, Google has signaled its aim to be the new owner of the #1 spot in the travel industry as the world's largest metasearch.
Heresy (or heresay), you might suggest? Well, let’s first do some calculations together.
Without even third-party API usage, Google totals roughly 170 million visits to its branded Maps web and mobile assets each month, with users on average racking up at least ten pages per visit.
This number doesn’t even include the myriad of API integrations and the massive potential for incremental growth via the recently announced Maps Engine API for the enterprise business.
So, let’s make some rough, but conservative assumptions to put this into perspective.
- Each Google Maps mobile app visit represents one unique route query.
- Each Google Maps web visit represents two unique route queries.
- That averages out to around 1.6 unique route queries per visit.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Out of every route query performed via Google Maps, today there is no public data specifying how many of those involve an origin location and a destination location that are far enough apart for a flight to be a potential mode of transportation.
But for the sake of this analysis, let’s assume 5% of all nearly 300 million monthly route queries would have an air travel option available.
Almost instantly, simply by flipping the Google Flights switch, roughly 15 million new flight search queries would be performed and presented to travelers each month directly inside of Google Maps.
Does 15 million sound familiar? It happens to be roughly the average number of unique searches performed on some of the biggest online travel agency and travel information sites each month.
It’s not all the same... or is it?
True, those OTAs are serving customers that have the clear intent to book travel, while Maps users may just be looking for directions to Grandma’s house.
However, let’s show a quick example of how easy the new Google maps might convert someone. Say you’re looking to drive from Denver to Salt Lake City:
Eight hours, not too bad. But wait. That grey line offers me another tempting option. Fly an hour and 15 minutes, and it’s only $138?
With today’s gas prices, I might be tempted. Let me take a closer look:
Well, that’s pretty darn tempting. And look, not only are airlines represented well, I’m already being led into the hotel purchase funnel on the right.
And so it all starts coming together.
Over the past year, there’s been a ton of dialogue in the industry about the lack of traction for Google’s Flights product.
For all that time, it’s likely Google hasn’t cared one bit about the short-sightedness of that criticism, instead focusing on building the next-generation Maps product currently being rolled out by a very proud set of engineers and designers who have invested months and some years into its new, arguably flawless interface.
While we've all been scurrying around debating cache speed versus inventory availability in flight search API-land, Google has been patiently investing in a bigger mission to turn Google Maps ("more than just a map", as its tagline reminds us) into an engine upon which it will usher in the true beginning to Google’s potentially devastating reign in travel.
Google isn't starting from scratch to build a new travel product like we've all been so gullible to believe.
As has been pointed out, it knew better than any of us that the two most popular travel products in the world were already in their portfolio: Google Search + Google Maps (lest we forget about YouTube, the second most popular search engine around, also owned by Google).
It stands to reason that Google Maps just might be the best "top of the funnel" anyone could ever dream up.
Beyond its branded assets, the forthcoming update to the Maps API could be the inevitable catalyst for Google Flights data to also be integrated as a core part of the Google API platform.
Why wouldn't Google want to open up the ability for long-tail developers to build out their own map-based flights app? Or "apps" plural, as the case is likely to be with over one million sites integrating Google Maps API functionality and data already.
And even beyond the next API update?
Google (always) remains tight-lipped about the specifics, but during the Google I/O keynote a few noteworthy statements were reiterated.
The first was that Google Maps will now be "more than just a map" and a second statement shared a future vision for Maps in which each person has a personalized map unique to their preferences, data and is able to predict future needs.
It’s easy to imagine per the screen shots included above an even more "personalized" map experience as they referenced with the cross-app integrations they’ve rolled out over the last 12 months.
For example, Google Calendar could easily provide the unique intelligence necessary for the travel dates included in the Google Maps flight option to be intelligently auto-populated based on days most appealing to me in terms of my schedule compared to best fares available.
Even when predicting the total travel time for each "travel mode" in Google Maps, where I’m currently located or where I live can help give end-to-end time estimates.
Further, layering historical traffic data to help calculate drive-time to the airport plus curb-to-gate walking time thanks to Google Indoor Maps data could give travelers the power to make even more informed choices than ever before.
If you haven't taken the new beta for a spin, these bold visions for the future will start to feel a little more realistic when you do. And prepare to utter a “wow” or six to yourself while you explore what the new tool has to offer.
Both hated competitors and fanboys alike agree it’s incredible.
Tolling the bell
So, what comes next? Hopefully the industry waking up to the idea that Google Maps is the name it has included way too infrequently as a part of the discussions on Google Travel's master plan.
And if this assessment is even remotely accurate, we've got the final nail in the coffin coming for a fair number of players in the lucrative world of online travel.
Oh, and one more thing...
- Multi-modal? We’ve alreadytalked about that one.
- Flight search by amenities? I’d start looking at other ideas.
- Flight search API-as-a-service? The Google Maps API may be your new worst enemy the day its next update is released.
- Trip planning? You’re better off charging people $5 to watch the Hipmunk mascot punch you in the face.
- Hotel search? It's only just begun with hotels. And between places, neighborhoods and the rapidly growing indoor mapping capabilities, that’s not a segment I’d want to be in a losing battle with them over. Perhaps Priceline's Jeffery Boyd is right?
The entire new Google Maps is fully integrated with, and conversely by Google Plus. Every single result it delivers will eventually have the potential to be influenced by your social graph and your individual tastes and preferences.
It won’t be long before your flight results are influenced by not only calendar and location data, but specifically this Google+ data including the notorious Circles which finally may crack the code of segmenting out your social graph into buckets that add relevance to both your leisure and business travel map-based shopping experiences.
Google Maps has, to date, not been great at pulling users into the various funnels it can power. This new release has the greatest potential of anything before it to change that.
At the end of the day, there are too many possible funnels for Google to own in travel to list them all in this one article, but suffice to say, with the new platform architecture finally coming into its own that they’ve been planning world dominance around for the better part of a decade, it’s time now more than ever to take notice.
We each have to look in the mirror and accept that for almost every one of us, in some small and some massive parts of our business, Google Maps and it's 20 billion annual page views are officially a much more terrifying and direct industry threat than we ever gave it credit for.
Whether we accept it or not, we are all a part of travel industry history in the making.
It’s time to stand clear of the tracks because Google Travel and its 20 billion-passenger train is finally approaching the station.
NB: This article was influenced by other nodes on the Tnooz contributing team.