In the past 60 days alone Google has made some interesting moves in the travel space.
I went back and typed in "Google" into the search box on Tnooz. Each of the results was interesting individually.
In short, some of the moves could be summarised in these posts:
And some more ideas here:
However, in total and in context, since the beginning of the year, someone thinking in a paranoid conspiracy sort of way can see that there are a number of boxes being ticked. Perhaps even a master plan.
So here is my view. I caution you that this is pure speculation on my part only. I have no inside knowledge, I have broken no NDAs and I have not harmed anyone in the preparation of this story.
You can be the judge of whether or not I am right. Time will be the only verified way to confirm this.
Sometime last year a group of people inside Google got together and started to look at the whole travel vertical. Google is relentless in the re-examination of sectors.
The company was already making good money in the vertical. But in typical Google fashion, they probably asked: "Is this enough? What could we do to own the vertical?"
So what did they see?
Over several days and weeks of intense thinking both individual and in groups, they saw a dysfunctional marketplace that was crying out for some degree of rationalization and definitely some disintermediation.
They looked hard at the rules of the game and realized that some players were making money out of the business who perhaps shouldn’t be. They also saw ossified business processes. They also saw a fair amount of inaccuracy even some could say dishonesty.
But interestingly they saw a business where there are no perfect answers. Where consumers have to spend quite a lot of time (for both pleasure and quite frankly because the results are rather awful) in searching for good or even great answers.
They saw that for the past 15 years the OTAs have made a good business in killing the traditional sellers of travel. They saw that real and meta search businesses were starting to get some traction but still the results were an unhappy set of offers for the consumer.
Finally what they realized above all that there is one missing element from the whole process of travel from ideation to fulfillment – particularly in the front part of the process – they looked and saw that there is very little trust. Even the major brands did not deliver the trust that other market verticals have. The consumer research confirmed it. Trust is the missing secret ingredient in travel. And Google can be trusted to deliver that key constituent in new travel.
On the negative side, the nature of the dysfunction also posed a threat to Google’s search dominance. (Oh really – how so?) The fact that it is somewhat “messed up” means that eventually the consumer will gravitate to solutions which attack the core problem – ie Trust.
If someone could figure out trust, then the whole unaligned user community would gravitate towards it. Then the aligned community would in turn follow.
Clearly this trust was not going to come from the supply side. It wasn’t going to come from the OTA players – they had blown their chance up and down the supply and distribution chain. Nor would it come from any of the traditional players. The threat however could/would come from search. And this was a scary proposition to Google.
Finally there was a significant risk to the value proposition of search if say someone like Apple could parlay its strength of the mobile device into the conventional world as the iPhone/iPad became the dominant model for mobile.
So Google set about developing a road map of what good trustworthy search could look like and its subsequent re-architecting of the market place. Looking at just search was clearly not enough.
In looking at what they had to do, they clearly saw that the process of the workflow was convoluted and a bad experience for the consumer. The lean forward explicit nature of searching/shopping for information meant that travel lagged other processes and consumer interaction models.
There were also some rather large fat cats in that process who had an established gravy train and were not motivated to move.
In disassembling the marketplace they grasped there were some key inflection points and within those inflection points were some critical technologies and services (as well as content sources) which could be better integrated and managed The Google Way.
As an aside they grasped one factor early on – that unchecked, search could materially harm or even kill the business because the whole cost of search would cripple the vertical. They realized that cache is really rather stupid and a guaranteed source of failure. Indeed, as Google saw it there was a large amount of stupid and unnatural behavior.
They realized that content had to become better organized and visual search and data interpretation would become a critical element. Geolocation and Mobile functions would become a serious proposition and it had to wrest the dominance away from Apple.
On the positive side travel could become the driving app for Android adoption if they could get it right. This would stop the rot of the evil iPhone so that the masterplan for worldwide domination could continue.
They looked finally at who had the good stuff and if put in the same stable could radically alter the world’s largest non-government business. A chance to show the world that Google thinking was actually good for the world.
So Google targeted a number of different key inflection point technologies and groups of people. They clearly saw that it wasn’t just the accidental development of some cool tech, no – the teams of people and the thinking had also to be aligned.
For this reason, some natural (and in some cases existing Google) partners were discarded. But the core team was learning fast and honing in on its prize. What they also realized after speaking and researching so many different players in the traditional infrastructure was that no one had enough power to control and – perhaps more importantly – no one had the power to resist. The Google Borg could assimilate all and the result would actually be better for the world.
Fast forward to the beginning of this year and the resurgence of travel in January emboldened Google to start the execution of the plan. The numbers were looking better than anyone had hoped so the plan had to be moved forward and indeed accelerated. Senior management at Google approved it. And the rest as they say is history.
Now tell me if you think I am just speculating….