Google, ITA, and the Future of Travel: It’s All About Data, Not Search

4/23/12Follow @gthuang

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Google Earth and Google Maps, followed by local business listings, directions, and other information (such as Street View images). Google also has made strides in providing machine translation of foreign languages, user reviews of restaurants and hotels (both organically and by acquiring Zagat), location-sharing mobile services, and public transit schedules and data. Add these to Google’s advances in mobile and social sharing technologies, and you can imagine a lot of different aspects of travel getting woven together online—more on this below.

So, as of this month, Google and ITA have been officially working together for a year. What do they have to show for it? Critics and competitors would say “not much yet.” Last September, Google rolled out its initial flight search product, Google Flights—which uses ITA’s QPX software—to mixed reviews. People liked the speed and simplicity of the site, but wanted more options and airlines represented. Since then, Google has added more features, like flights from the U.S. to 500-plus international destinations, flights between smaller regional airports, and snazzier visualization tools.

One innovation is a map showing destinations you can fly to from your home city (see screenshot, left), with corresponding lowest prices, which can all be filtered by the dates you want to travel (or types of dates, such as weekends), whether you want nonstop or connecting flights, and other preferences. “A lot of it is just helping people navigate a big complex space of data that changes dynamically all the time because all the suppliers are optimizing second by second,” says Wertheimer. “You want to make sure people see all the options they want to see, and not be overwhelmed by it.” Overall, it’s “a completely different experience of finding a flight,” says Noam Ben Haim, Google’s senior product manager for flight search and travel initiatives.

The company’s rivals are considerably less impressed, however. One competing travel tech CEO, who asked to remain anonymous, called Google’s flight search “a disappointment to all the airlines that signed up that I’ve spoken with.” The CEO added that Google’s plans for flight search “are clearly … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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