There’s just no stopping Google in its bid to become the world’s number one travel agent. Hot on the heels of its purchase of restaurant review site Zagat last year, the search engine giant is now reported to be interested in acquiring the travel website Frommer’s. As search evolves into a more convenient, more personalized service than ever before, Google wants to be able to provide you with all the answers you’ll ever need, no matter where in the world you might be.
Google’s search engine is already a very well oiled, highly sophisticated machine. Shortly after acquiring ITA Software back in 2010, the internet giant rolled out integrated flight schedules in its search results, which appear in response to user queries related to travel. With all of this data it can draw upon, plus the recent addition of flight reservations buried deep inside your own email, Google isn’t all that far away from having online flight bookings sewn up.
This is all part of Google’s plan to provide as much information as it possibly can about the world around you, and we can expect to see this taken even further with the inclusion of content from Zagat and Frommer’s. Most likely, these professional reviews will be integrated with comments and check-ins from users of Google+ Local and other services, so that users can select the most helpful results.
All this sounds great for the user, but it’s worth pointing out that Google isn’t doing this out of the kindness of its heart. Search results for queries about travel, local businesses, services and shopping are some of the most valuable from a financial perspective, as they are obvious choices for expensive, targeted ads.
Google is clearly aiming for some kind of monopoly on search results, but this hasn’t gone unnoticed by rivals, and it’s unlikely to go unchallenged either. According to TechCrunch, there have already been calls to block Google’s acquisition of Frommer’s, less than 24 hours after it was announced.
The advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said that Google has shown a tendency to favor its own content providers in search results, and claims that the Frommer’s acquisition is a “fundamental conflict between its roles of search provider and content provider”.
More predictably perhaps, FairSearch.org, whose members include Microsoft, Expedia and TripAdvisor among others, has also weighed in with its own criticism, blustering in a hastily typed up statement that authorities need to look closely at Google’s “ability to use its dominance in search and search advertising to steer users away from competitors in order to keep users on Google’s own pages longer, and the potentially devastating effects that could have on the online economy.”
Google typically responds to these kinds of criticisms by insisting that it is only trying to provide the most relevant search results, but no matter what they say, if the Frommer’s deal goes ahead we can expect much closer scrutiny of their behavior from antitrust regulators.