For over 25 years, the Global Distribution System companies dominated travel distribution globally, aggregating an amazing audience of travel professionals (and by virtue of that connection, their customer base). That was the way distribution was done.
Well, whether you like it or not, as our old friend Bob Dylan said "The times, they are a' changing."
Let's look at the new environment and the [not so] new player on the horizon that is impacting not only travel distribution, but most every area of our lives.
Here are some things you should know about Google.
1. GOOGLE in Travel - Unless you have been living in a cave, you should be aware that earlier this year, Google acquired travel technology player, ITA Software, for $700 million USD. This is the 4th largest acquisition ever made by Google and significant because it will change the face of search for travel products and services. This is a sea change for the industry, as some argue that the playing field is no longer even and that Google will have an increase in control in who gets traffic from their search displays beyond normal search engine optimization (SEO).
2. SEARCH ENGINE STRENGTH - Hitwise reports that as of 8/13/2011, GOOGLE controls over 65% of all online search, which when coupled with a new, smarter search powered by ITA is significant for those that are trying to attract people to your travel site. And an important hidden stat is which other search engines are actually powered by Google.
3. VIDEO SEARCH DOMINATION - Hitwise also reports for the same period that YouTube is now the #3 website, behind Facebook and Google. Google paid $1.65 billion for YouTube in 2006. Search for travel and tourism videos are also now squarely in Google's hands.
4. ADVERTISING CONTROL - Google controls a significant amount of the online advertising, both through its pay for click products and through DoubleClick, which is its 2nd largest acquisition to date ($3.1 b in 2006). The travel category represents one of Google's largest category of advertisers.
5. SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCE - For those that have built social media sites (or an ecommerce site for that matter) know that it is no trivial matter to drive traffic. So here we have Google dominating once again - an organization that within 2 months went from product launch (Google +, their social media platform) to 25 million worldwide unique visitors.
6. MOBILE - And who could miss yesterday's announcement of Google spending a whopping $12.5 billion on Motorola Mobility. This acquisition gives Google significant assets on the mobile, mobile advertising and notepad front. All of these, when coupled with Google's success with their Android platform are not to be ignored.
7. DRIVE MARKET - Last but not least, 85% of all overnight trips in the US are by car. And you guessed it, the number one site in the travel category (which includes mapping) is GoogleMaps. While mapping alone is not sufficient for mastering journey planning (multi-day travel planning including segments by car), it does give Google a bit of a head start, particularly coupled with Google Local.
While I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theories about Google being the modern day "Big Brother", I can't help but remind the supplier community that the "devil that they know" (aka the GDS) may be a while lot better in the long run than the "devil that they don't yet know".
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