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As Google officially launched Destinations on Google, on the same day across two continents, Google Travel executives delivered conflicting messages about whether the end game could be Google becoming an online travel agency.
The prospect has been competitors’ big nightmare for years.
At ITB Berlin on March 9, Oliver Heckmann, Google’s vice president of travel and shopping, told conference attendees that Google has no plans to act as an online travel agency “now or in the future ….” [Audio embedded, below].
However, in the U.S. during a CNBC TV interview, also on March 9, Rob Torres, Google’s managing director of travel, wasn’t ready to mimic Heckmann’s Shermanesque denial.
After being asked whether Google would consider acquiring Expedia or Priceline, Torres says [at 4:04 in the video embedded below]:
“Well, you know, I think, yes, never say never but the reality is we are really in the information system. We are trying to provide good travel information to people as quickly as possible. And to do that, if we went down a transaction-engine route it would be a very, very different business model and we have great partners that we work for that do a great job of when you want to transact they do that well and they have great customer service. We really want to expose more people to travel up-front and really work with these partners to do that.”
In reality, Torres’ answer was more reasonable than Heckmann’s because no responsible, public company would want to totally rule out ever changing course and pivoting its business model, in this case toward becoming an online travel agency.
This doesn’t mean that Google is embarked on becoming an Expedia or Priceline, although I’d be shocked if Google had never kicked the tires of one or the other.
However, Google is indeed getting further into travel booking as a facilitator of hotel and flight transactions in the quasi-OTA TripAdvisor and Kayak mode, where consumers can book hotels on Google, although partners are the merchant of record and handle the customer.
Still, Google is not becoming an online travel agency anytime soon. But as Torres says, “never say never.”