When travel professionals gathered in Dubai’s Sofitel Jumeirah Beach yesterday for the Web in Travel (WiT) Middle East 2019 conference, there was a collective thought on their minds – Google.
Last month, the tech giant took some big steps further into the world of online travel, introducing Google Hotels to its online booking platform. And that has local digital travel companies worried.
“Google is an existential threat. It has been for years – but even more now that it’s getting into the booking game,” said Ross Veitch, co-founder and CEO of Wego, speaking at Tuesday’s WiT conference.
The thought was echoed by Sameer Bagul from Cleartrip Middle East when asked by founder of WiT, Yeoh Siew Hoon, about his biggest worry for the online travel market today. “Right now, it’s Google,” said Bagul.
Paulina Klotzbucher of Travelstart concurred, adding: “Google is always a concern for everyone as it’s so massive.”
Having quietly introduced hotels to its online travel offerings last month, listing properties around the world and giving customers the chance to book directly through the platform, Google instantly became a one-stop solution for people looking to plan holidays or book trips.
For Bagul, Google’s entry into the online travel space heralded the start of a new chapter. “The era of free traffic has gone now,” he said.
For travellers, however, Google’s move could be good news. As other digital travel companies realise that they cannot compete with Google in terms of search results, they will look to new ways to diversify their offerings.
For instance, Albert Dias from Musafair told delegated that the company was planning to offer better personalisation options. “We’re looking at more of a fine-paradigm approach as opposed to search results,” he explained. This could give travellers more options for custom services when booking trips, such as finding vegan hotels, sourcing local tour guides or sampling unique activities within a destination.
Madhavan Kasthur from travel technology company Sabre viewed Google’s march into the online travel spectrum in a slightly different way. “It’s tough to fight against [Google], but look at Microsoft. People used to think the same about them but it’s not quite true now.”
While Google has an obvious advantage when it comes to online travel – after all, it already has millions of people using its products around the world – it may not be best placed to deliver the hyper-local knowledge for which today’s travellers are hungry.
If you’re trying to plan and book a bespoke trip or customised itinerary, it’s more likely that local providers will have the edge.
As these local operators try to find new ways to compete with Google, they will be investing time, money and technology into their hyper-local offerings and customer service, which could mean good news all round for travellers when it comes to booking their next holiday.