Google Destinations: The Future of Mobile Travel

Google has just launched what may be the future of mobile travel search tools: Google Destinations. Brilliantly, Google has integrated the power of their hotel, airline, and destination search into a single, mobile-friendly travel planning platform.

The completely immersive experience is simple for travelers to navigate and – ironically for a search company – intended to eliminate the need for multipleĀ searches.Ā As the user navigates, the search results auto-update. Ā One simply scrolls and Google Destinations handles all the heavy lifting.

 

It's difficult to imagine Google designing theĀ "search" out of search, but one look at Google Destinations makes it easy to see how this could easily become the future of travel search. To test Google Destinations, enter a destination and add the word "vacation" (e.g. "Florida Vacation")… and Google Destinations does the rest.

How Guest Targeting is shifting the OTA landscape

For years, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity have been entrenched OTA players in a static hospitality landscape. With back-end connectivity to the GDS, these OTA giants represented a simple, at-home entry point for many travelers. Over time, aggressive marketing and rate parity have established OTAs as a reliable retail outlet for hotels, airlines, and rental cars.

But in the past 18 months, a seismic shift has begun to change the landscape for the online travel agencies. Foreshadowed by Google's 2010 acquisition of ITA Software, the rise of "big-data" represents the greatest challenge to OTAs in more than a decade Click to TweetĀ and is beginning to change the landscape for many of the largest online travel agencies.

Armed with data on preferences, interests and even search histories, big-data providers like Facebook and Google have built platforms by which hoteliers can offer highly targeted packages and promotions to small groups of retail travelers. The result looks to net higher conversions at a lower cost of sale for hoteliers, all while delivering a more satisfying retail experience for guests.

This shifting landscape could bring the eventual downfall of the parity-based model for OTAs. Just this week, Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi confirmed to CNBC's "Squawk Box" show that Expedia is looking for ways to shift its offering to hoteliers away from parity towards a guest-targeting model. (Note: Khosrowshahi's comments about Expedia's future model begin at 2:20 into the video.)

In my opinion, the biggest challenge OTAs face in delivering a targeted guest model is the access to a larger guest dataset. While Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz capture travel search data, the legacy OTAs lack access to broader preferences that are game-changers for the big-data companies. OTAs will likely need to purchase guest data directly from their new competitors, Facebook and Google, Click to Tweet which will drive down profit and make the challenge even more pressing.

I believe that the pressure to build a more profitable, guest-targeted model may drive OTA consolidation. It's also quite possible that we will see the larger OTAs pursue big-data through acquisition of social media properties such as Pinterest or Gogobot.

Does this mean that Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz are about to fold up shop? Not at all. Although consolidation within OTAs is possible, the likely path for OTAs will be less emphasis on non-targeted results through the GDS and more focus on generating guest-targeted offerings at a higher margin.

Google+ Equals Zero … Four Early Signs that Google Plus Will Fail

There has been a lot of hype around the launch of Google's latest foray into the social space, Google+, this week, with "hype" being the operative word.

After spending time on the site, I'm convinced that Google Plus is destined meet the same fate as the brand's other failed social networking attempts. The reason? Google doesn't understand social networking. 

Here are four early signs that Google+ will fail:

  1. Despite being launched as a social networking site, Google has limited the number of people that can join at launch. This strategy has failed Google before in the social space (Buzz and Wave come to mind) and demonstrates that, for all that the brand does well, Google does not understand social networking. How can users be expected to establish their social network when their friends, family, or coworkers can't join the site? Meanwhile, Facebook and RenRen are immediately accessible to everyone. Not only does this limit the usability of the site, it squanders the initial excitement around the launch and frustrates any attempt to convert early adopters. Google's effort to ensure site stability has guaranteed its demise even before the doors open.
  2. Google+ is neither open nor closed. While Google Plus allows you to set sharing levels among your friends, the site permits strangers to connect with you and – in some cases – interact with your content. While there could be some upside to this model in professional or industry networking, that isn't the audience that Google+ is targeting. I don't think Mom is going to be thrilled when a college student from Brazil starts making comments on her recipes. 
  3. With nearly 800 million people spending one trillion minutes per month on Facebook, why should users bother to joining Google+. As of the launch, Google can't any functionality that solves a user's problem or represents a "killer app". Google Plus is simply another way to accomplish the same thing that users are already doing on Facebook. It isn't targeting a niche market or bringing anything new to the party. There is nothing being done in the space that is unique to Google+. Google Plus is elegantly designed, but the core functionality – including the sharing privacy methods that Google has promoted – already existing within Facebook. To put it bluntly, Google can't express any "reason" to join and, therefore, users simply won't join. 
  4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Facebook is strong enough to compete and innovate. For all it's fortunes, Google is the underdog in social media. For every gee-whiz thing that Google might be able to implement into Google+, Facebook can simply incorporate those features into their service and easily maintain it's 750+ million user base. 

Google has garnered the media's attention yet again; however, the early signs point to a quick and public end to yet another failed social network.