Orbitz Worldwide CEO Barney Harford believes the online travel agency is better-positioned to counter the metasearch threat -- from Google and Kayak -- than Orbitz has been in a handful of years.
Harford's statements line up to some extent with those of Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who argues that if Google sticks with its pledges to be largely an advertising play, then Expedia will be fine.
The two execs, speaking separately at Citi's 22nd Annual Global Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference in San Francisco last week, opined in essence that Google's moves in travel don't mean the sky is falling and they will be able to compete.
Harford says he feels less of a competitive threat from Google than he did a year or 18 months ago, in part because US airlines have flexed their muscles and limited the types of itineraries that online travel agencies can offer through metasearch sites such as Kayak and Google Flight Search. Harford says:
And so what you see today, if you go look at Kayak, what you see if you go look at Google, is really a reduced set of options because any itinerary that involves one leg that is Delta, one leg that is American, one leg that is US Airways, basically it can only be fulfilled on one of their [airline] websites. So it's basically AA [pure], Delta pure, US Airways pure. The interline options are being whittled down very significantly.
Harford explains that Google Flight Search is likewise "a very, very incomplete offering."
And, while Kayak has done "a great job" in innovating and updating its user interface, "some of the most traditional players have found it harder to go and make ongoing changes to the front-end UI because [they've] been constrained by a classic technology system," Harford says.
Orbitz, meanwhile, has been investing in a global tech platform, which Harford feels enables it to innovate and iterate faster than ever.
That new-found iteration capabilities, together with the constrained itinerary offerings from airlines in metasearch, and an ability to personalize the user experience based on 750 terabytes of data collected from consumers about their site behaviors, gives Orbitz some newly discovered advantages, Harford says. He adds:
"... You can actually book on Orbitz and we know all that information about you. So we've always been -- we've always had this strong benefit, which is if you go to Orbitz, it's really simple. You go to a meta site, you click on a link, it takes you to some random website, you've got to enter all of your information again."
Of course, Orbitz is one of those "random" websites that participates in Kayak. Orbitz, which a couple of years ago had an exclusive relationship of sorts with Kayak, has been feuding with Kayak over its perceived loss of that status.
And, if you are keeping score in the OTA versus metasearch sweepstakes, Kayak has been busy giving consumers the ability to book hotels on Kayak.com through a behind-the-scenes Travelocity partnership, so some of Orbitz's book-on-Orbitz advantage may be diminished.
Nonetheless, both Orbitz and Expedia are expressing more confidence about themselves these days despite Google's travel investments.