Is Google on the cusp of destroying Skyscanner, Kayak and Expedia in one fell swoop? We've heard that kind of hyperbole before, and few obituaries have been written. That being said, it would seem premature for Google to swap out Google Flight Search for something new when the product is so young.
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary notoriously doesn’t mind stirring things up and he did so over the weekend in an interview, where he said that Google wants to launch a price- comparison service, with Ryanair participating, that will “blow comparison sites like Skyscanner out of the water.”
Sometimes O’Leary creates a firestorm based on his own version of reality.
Ryanair is the Southwest Airlines of Europe, refusing to share its fares online with other websites. There has been conjecture for months that Ryanair, seeking to attract more business travelers and to counter EasyJet’s gains amidst Ryanair’s outbreak of niceties, would opt for a broader distribution policy.
So a decision to give Google access to the Irish airline’s fares, while a dramatic change, would not be totally unexpected.
The potentially big news in the O’Leary interview was that Ryanair would be offering pricing “through all of the Google outlets, so when you go in, there’ll be route selections, cheapest prices and so on,” he said, adding Google is “developing a price-comparison thing themselves.”
Was O’Leary speaking out of turn and revealing the outlines of some new Google product?
The more we think about it, the more we’re convinced that O’Leary may know the airline business, but his prognostications about online travel appeared to be a bit skewed and off-base.
His comment that Google is developing a price-comparison service is curious because Google, after all, already has a price-comparison service in the form of Google Flight Search, launched in the U.S. 2010, and rolled out in the UK just less than a year ago, in March 2013.
Assuredly, O’Leary has heard of the service even though the airline is not currently a participant.
Well, maybe not.
However, if O’Leary had things right, then Google would be planning a relaunch or revamp of Google Flight Search in the form of a much broader integration of its various travel-related products, possibly including Google Hotel Finder, Google Maps, Google+, Google Local with former Frommer’s and Zagat, Google Wallet, Google Mobile, Google Carousel and others.
Some kind of closer integration of Google’s far-flung travel products is a logical next step at some point, although it would be premature and there is no evidence that this is currently on the drawing board for the short term.
Henry Harteveldt, an analyst at Hudson Crossing, argues that Google may be “at a point where it believes its product and capabilities are ready for prime time.”
“I suspect they want to be perceived as finally being able to offer a more comprehensive suite of services, as opposed to discrete products,” Harteveldt says. “It will be interesting to see how Google and its clients proceed with the implementations.”
In Europe, Google Flight Search already has relationships with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air France and Lufthansa, for example, and adding Ryanair would be a great addition for comprehensiveness’ stake.
Google is indeed believed to be wooing Ryanair, with O’Leary saying the airline would participate in Google’s new product for free.
Ryanair declined to elaborate on the airline’s or Google’s plans, with a spokesperson saying, “Ryanair does not engage in speculation.”
Google isn’t tipping its hand about its plans. Some entirely new travel offering, which would revolutionize travel booking, seems a bit far-fetched. Tighter integration of some existing products over the long term? That’s entirely likely.
“We already have relationships with a number of airlines across the world but are always looking to improve the results by signing deals with more,” a Google spokesperson says. “We have nothing new to announce at this stage.”
Skyscanner, too, didn’t have much to say in reaction to O’Leary’s statement that it is on the verge of getting blown away.
Skyscanner states: “We don’t comment on our competitors or on statements by airlines or travel agencies regarding their distribution channels. At Skyscanner we are very much focused on ensuring we are giving our customers the best global coverage of flights internationally.
“Skyscanner enables users to search Ryanair flights as well as direct airlines and travel agencies around the world to find the best flights. We have spent many years developing the proprietary technology to enable us to offer our customers a best in class flight search tool and we believe we offer the most comprehensive global flight coverage that is both free and unbiased.”
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Photo credit: Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary gestures during a news conference in Madrid, September 20, 2012. Paul Hanna / Reuters