Google’s Travel Strategy Amidst the Imminent Phase Out of ‘Book on Google Flights’ Feature

A Google Flights map
Photo Credit: Google Maps

LONDON – Google Flights’ recent announcement to shut-down its “Book on Google” option outside of the U.S on September 30th and in the U.S after March 31st, 2023 has come as a big surprise for both OTA’s and consumers alike as it has been known to be one of the best options to book flights among consumers.

With respect to the proposed phase out of the “Book on Google” option, which allows users to submit their details in a Google-hosted form which is passed on to the airline or OTA, Google states:

“Over the next 12 months, we plan to phase out the Book on Google feature for Flights. We originally provided this functionality to give people a simpler way to buy their tickets, and to help our partner airlines and OTAs receive more bookings.”

“However, we’ve found over time that people actually want to book directly on partner websites, and we always strive to meet user preferences wherever possible.”

On the ‘Book on Google’ phase out

At the Skift Global Forum 2022, Richard Holden, Google’s VP & GM for travel, gave some further insights into what caused Google to move toward the phase out of the booking function.

“Our objective was never to be an OTA. Our goal of doing a book on Google wasn’t to be an OTA. The genesis of it initially was many years ago in an early mobile environment where many sites just didn’t perform well from a mobile booking perspective.”

“We created it initially for partners saying we’ve optimized this for multiple contexts, we can help you improve your conversion rates, we have no interests in owning the customer relationship, you’re still the merchant of record. If this helps you from a conversion standpoint great use it if not don’t bother.”

“For many partners that really was the case for the ones that were less sophisticated online it was a helpful service. We offered it as well on desktop but it was more engaged on a mobile front.”

“Eventually most Google sites have become better and better, over time they perform better the value for book on Google wasn’t there for a many partners as a proportion of all bookings it was falling and we just decided at that point it served its purpose.”

“Our purpose was not to own the customer relations booking but it was to streamline bookings which it did at this point. We had consumers that used it and loved it but we were finding that it was declining as a proportion of our overall bookings over time to seem clear that most mobile sites and others were performing well over time and that wasn’t necessary necessarily,” said Richard.

“Likewise Google has gotten some great insight regarding what direction the travel industry is headed due to its consistent experience working in the market for gaining further information to help further its consumer needs.”

“In the travel context I would say that there is no doubt that users are using more time especially younger generations of users looking at videos instead of text based information to do travel inquiry. We think there’s a huge opportunity in the video space. You can see it in Youtube and you can see in other sites with consumers beginning to engage more and more.”

“The early stages of thinking about travel dreaming about where they want to go rather then dreaming and reading about it spending a lot more time looking at videos about that. I think TikTok has a nice space about that, Instagram as well through reels has a nice space. We think there are some interesting opportunities”

“A lot more last minute planning that consumers are doing on-device in location,” Richard concluded.

New travel products from Google

Having given further insight on what others should follow on new trends, Holden himself said its consumers should expect new travel oriented products in the near future from Google.

“We have nothing specific in Fintech. There are some interesting products players in the industry are working on. There was something back in 2019 we worked on which was flight price guarantee which we experimented with for a period of time and then the pandemic hit and then we pulled back.”

“That is something that we’re looking at trying to renew in the next year or so. The consumers really loved it when we experimented with it before. We were work a lot with price insights on hotel and flight side but I wouldn’t say there is anything I deem fintech. “

Google being a leader and its VP & GM of travel being the one leading Google in the Space shows much to come regarding the firm’s choice to focus further on client advertising in the travel space while introducing some new applications.

As much is Google’s position was never one of an OTA its leaves much to be awaited as consumers wait to see who will replace Google not as an OTA but as the leading flight booking site in the industry.

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