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Google Travel's Market Power

Former President at

IP Interview
Published on April 22, 2020

Why is this interview interesting?

  • Google’s evolution in the travel ecosystem and potential risk to OTA’s
Executive Bio

Scott Booker

Former President at

Scott joined in 2003 when the company was a Dallas-based startup. He spent 5 years in product and customer marketing before moving to SVP where he was responsible for the global website and product development. In 2012, Scott was then promoted to President of with full P&L responsibility. Scott previously spent 3 years at Blockbuster as Senior Director of Strategic Marketing for Blockbuster Online, the incumbent competitor to Netflix, where he was competing directly with the now video streaming giant.

Interview Transcript

What is your view on this evolution of Google’s market power in travel?

Having been in that space for a long time and, actually, in other companies too, it is a tricky one. I’ll go back to my point a few minutes ago. I understand why Google is doing what they do. Their logic is, back to the customer experience, how can I make this the best customer experience, when somebody does a search on Google? They’re trying to minimize clicks. Now, with a majority of searches happening on mobile, how do I maximize my customer experience on a smaller device, with less real estate?

I think, fundamentally, they are doing the right thing by the consumer. There’s also, though, the commercial side of things and a public company trying to grow. When they’ve made some of these changes, it does look like, look, I’m trying to drive more revenue for Google. Again, you can’t blame them for being competitive, from that standpoint. But it is challenging, for any internet business, working in this space, to deal with how best to compete with Google. There’s been lots of different lobbying groups, in Europe and the US, to try to slow down some of the stuff that they’re doing there; some of it more successful than others. There was a case, in the EU, against Google. I think there’s just a balance that is probably a little skewed towards Google, right now. Who knows what will happen. Over time, it may shift back, at some point.

It seems as if they have slowly entrenched on the ecosystem and are sucking all the dollars out of it, in a way, with the flight product that they have, now with the hotel product that they have. Like you said, arguably, they can definitely build a better product, in searching for flights, with the information they have. I guess it comes to an anti-competitive discussion there. It’s interesting to see their power in the ecosystem.

For sure, there is a lot of power there. If it’s the main funnel, for a consumer demand, then it’s easy to see how they have this much power as they do. A lot of people would say, it’s too much power. I think, in the travel space, it’s so acutely on people’s minds, because two of the top five spenders on Google, in the world, from a business perspective, are Booking and Expedia. I think Google knows that that’s a deep well, right there, of additional revenue for them. Personally, I’d like to see the competitive balance shift back a little bit more. I’m not opposed to Google making money, but I’d like to see it a little more balanced. And not just in travel but in other internet businesses, as well.

Do you think Google is a risk to the OTAs?

Of course, yes. Because, one way or another, it’s causing the OTAs to spend more money with Google, to even compete, to get it to the top of the page, in that auction. Because SEO has been pushed further and further down, the only way to get in front of the consumer’s eyeballs, is to spend, because you know your organic is not going to get there. So yes, it’s very definitely affecting the OTA’s P&Ls. I think that’s only got worse, over the last few years.

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