Stephen Kaufer, the top guy at TripAdvisor, isn't ready to coronate Google as the king of online travel.
Even if Google buys ITA Software.
Kaufer, TripAdvisor's president and CEO, recalls that Google's overall track record includes hits and failures and its success in travel would be far from assured.
“They have a number of absolute hits and they have a number of failures," says Kaufer, who sat down for a wide-ranging Tnooz interview at TripAdvisor's Newton, Mass., headquarters yesterday. "So it’s a far cry if Google comes into the space guns blazing -- it is uncertain they will succeed.
"They don’t have a community and without ITA they don’t even have a metasearch platform," Kaufer says, but notes that on the other side of the ledger, Google does have key assets like Google Maps and a massive audience.
Kaufer points to Google Shopping as one arena where Google so far has fallen short.
“I remember the buzz that they were going to put every comparison shopping site out of business," Kaufer recalls. "It was going to be hugely damaging to Amazon, eBay and everyone else, and no one talks about it now. They put a lot of effort behind it, [but] it didn’t work.
But, then he qualifies his assessment.
"It didn’t work well enough -- even though it was Google. I might remind people not everything they do is successful.”
Kaufer notes that most Web businesses have a hybrid view of Google -- as friend and competitor -- and he is concerned about Google's moves further into travel.
“The more Google does in the travel space, they become a competitor and a lot of the world starts their Internet research on Google for everything," Kaufer says. "So if they are starting their travel research on Google and Google does more in travel, if they do a good job, then that hurts me.”
So the jury is out on not only on what Google would do in travel -- metasearch or, far less likely, taking bookings -- but also on how well it might do it.
One aspect of a potential Google acquisition of ITA Software is that ITA powers flight search for metasearch players like TripAdvisor, Bing Travel and Kayak; corporate booking tools such as Rearden Commerce and GetThere; an online travel agency, Orbitz; and scores of airline websites.
The prospect of Google ultimately controlling that core technology while becoming a huge travel competitor scares some companies.
Kaufer, however, says he isn't worried about that aspect of a potential Google-ITA Software merger, noting that TripAdvisor flights also uses Expedia's Best Fares Search and has direct-connects with some airlines.
“I am not worried about it from a technology perspective, frankly," Kaufer says.
He adds, referring to what Google might be cooking up, "I look at it from [the perspective] -- what are their plans for travel around the globe. "
Part Two of Four: TripAdvisor CEO explains link policy, feels the hotel love
Part Three of Four: TripAdvisor boss sees competitive advantage growing
Part Four of Four: TripAdvisor, HomeAway CEOs spar over vacation rental reviews