Well this ought to be interesting. After many fits and starts the deal is finally done, pending regulatory approval. The question is what is coming. Google’s ITA acquisition micro-site says all the right things, but what’s not completely clear is what the “enhanced” search tools will be. On the conference call this afternoon with analysts and press both Google CEO Eric Schmidt and ITA Software President and CEO Jerry Wertheimer were very vague about the future direction of the ITA products and business, with Schmidt noting that while no definitive decisions have been made the new offerings would be “very different than anything available today”.
There’s a fair amount of information on the a Google microsite describing the transaction, much of it establishing a bulwark against any possible anti-trust concerns, making the case that there is no anti-competitive impact to the acquisition. This seemed a natural move after recent rumblings that competitors would try to block the deal, or try to jump in before it closed.
But let’s look a little closer. While seemingly promising to honor commitments to existing QPX customers and pledging to stay out of the online travel agency business, it does seem as if the door is open to become a meta-search provider. The statement that they “…will drive potential customers to airline and online travel agency websites” is slightly less than “code” for we will sell advertising to airlines and OTAs. Sounds like meta to me.
Perhaps the most telling statement was their promise not to “lock out” competitors. That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t compete with the current clients, just not shut them down. So while the folks at Kayak.com, Orbitz and Bing don’t need to switch technology immediately, it’s probably prudent for them to evaluate alternatives post-haste.
However, if we let’s take a quick look at the way that Google views the travel industry, perhaps Google isn’t targeting meta-search and OTAs after all, but has the Big 3 GDSs in their sights.
How the future unfolds should be very interesting.