Elephants and gorillas and disruption, oh my.
At the OpenTravel 2010 Advisory Forum in Seattle April 27, there was much talk about new XML standards and schema, and travel-merchandising, too.
But during the formal discussions and as people engaged in off-premises banter, the topic often reverted to -- pick your favorite metaphor -- "the elephant in the room" or the [800 pound] "gorilla in the room."
Apparently there is widespread jungle fever about the next big seismic shifts in travel and who will trigger the eruptions.
The duly annointed heavies turn out to be the potential Google acquisition of ITA Software; Apple with its apps power and iTravel patents; and Facebook with its Like button distribution and Open Graph social protocol.
The ITA-Google focus takes place as Tnooz exclusively reports on a deal's potential timing.
ITA Software -- in combination with Google -- must be bemused as the business to business tech company, which keeps a low profile, suddenly has been thrust into the limelight by some as a potential big, bad threat to the travel industry, as we know it, alongside household-name brands such as Google, Apple and Facebook.
Timothy O'Neil Dunne, the managing partner of T2Impact, delivered the keynote address April 27 about merchandising and the need for change, but he couldn't help wading into the subject of Google possibly buying airfare shopping and pricing specialist ITA Software.
O'Neil-Dunne told the audience of assorted system architects, Web services marketers, global hotel-product chiefs and the like that they'd better be "damned scared" of a Google-ITA combo.
Pointing out that Google already makes more money in travel than any other vertical, O'Neil-Dunne argued that Google is after ITA for the wealth of its supplier relationships.
Google has ratcheted up its beta rollout of Google Maps with hotel search and pricing, and adding ITA's air capabilities to the mix would fine-tune any Google travel-metasearch aspirations. Much to the dismay of companies like Bing and Kayak, and many suppliers and intermediaries across the board.
After all, ITA claims that its U.S. market share -- from powering airline, online travel agency and metasearch websites -- already is more than 50% in airfare search.
Google got tired of waiting for suppliers and intermediaries to get smart about search, O'Neil-Dunne says, and is going after ITA to push along Google's own travel-search aspirations.
Google also covet's ITA for its supplier relationships, he says.
The likely fallout would be this, O"Neil-Dunne adds. "You have no choice. You have to funnel more money to Google," he says.
Jim Young, who formerly worked at Continental and Frontier Airlines and led InterContinental Hotels' much-publicized exodus from Expedia several years ago, says he remembers the day several years ago when ITA Software co-founder and CEO Jeremy Wertheimer showed up at Continental with all of the airline's pricing system on his laptop.
Young said he thought it "impossible."
But, Wertheimer was packing some airfare-pricing heat.
And, what happens with a Google-ITA combo if ITA, as has been reported, begins to develop a hotel shopping and pricing capability? Can air-centric ITA master the much-more complex hotel arena?
Pointing to the way ITA compressed airfare pricing, Young says he thinks ITA can successfully tackle hotels, as well, because it has the base platform.
Young says ITA could develop contextual hotel search and pricing, which might lead to a more effective way for hotels to merchandise themselves.
While there were several references to Google-ITA as the "elephant in the room," John Lambe, the chief technology officer of OpenJaw Technologies and the chair of OpenTravel, switched species and focus, calling Apple "the other gorilla in the room."
Lambe said Apple is "anti-search" as its app store is all about downloads and not search.
At several junctures throughout the sessions, Apple's iTravel patents were pointed to as a potential game-changer, given Apple's market power.
But, Dan Pritchett, chief platform architect at Rearden Commerce, apparently surveying all of the unseen market-beasts in the room, argued that Facebook'sOpen Graph protocol could turn out to be more impactful than a potential Google-ITA mash-up.
Pritchett says tools like the Facebook Like button, with its potential massive audience, will annotate information and create a "context" for the Google and Bing search engines which previously did not exist.
Meanwhile, Young, who is managing partner of Festival Vacations, warned the OpenTravel audience to get past making "enemies" out of successful companies just because they are big and making money.
A founder of the OpenTravel Alliance, Young said standards give the travel industry a language to communicate and a way to brake out of isolated silos.
Referring to the various elephants and 800-pound gorillas in the room -- real and imagined -- Young said OpenTravel can give "you the opportunity to make that kind of money."