Skift Take

The travel industry has long hoped for something to counter-balance the pecking order in Big Tech. It's not assured, but this time around generative AI could make it happen.

Expedia Group executives such as CEO Peter Kern and Chairman Barry Diller have long railed against Google’s inordinate dominance in travel advertising, but now Kern is hoping that the emergence of generative AI companies and other emerging technologies may lead to diminished dependence.

“The travel world is governed by the funnel from Google, and all these potential ideas will potentially rebalance the market, which will be good,” Kern said in an interview published Friday with the Economic Times, the Indian business daily. “We all like to have less dependencies on one big tech player and spread it out to other big tech players. I think ultimately we want people to be direct consumers and have the [Expedia] app.”

The interview touched on a variety of issues ranging from generative AI to the robust travel demand Expedia is seeing despite inflationary and other concerns.

Expedia itself has been particularly active in emerging generative AI tech, having debuted last week an OpenAI ChatGPT-powered chatbot on the Expedia mobile app, and in March it became an OpenAI plug-in partner, along with Booking Holdings’ Kayak and OpenTable in the travel industry.

The travel industry has long hoped for emerging players to take Google down a peg, and reduce the need to spend so much money with Google to win customers.

While the emergence of OpenAI, a new crop of startups, and perhaps companies that don’t even exist today might make that happen, although disappointment has also been common.

For example, by 2016 hotel chains such as  Marriott, Accor, Best Western, Wyndham, Choice, Hyatt, and Radisson, had signed on with Tripadvisor’s instant booking effort, which enabled their hotel bookings to take place on Tripadvisor without guests having to leave that website.

If hotels could have counted on a stronger Tripadvisor to capture customers, then in theory they wouldn’t have had to spend so much advertising money on Google. Ultimately, Tripadvisor didn’t get the traction it sought with instant booking, and abandoned the initiative.

The emergence of generative AI, which is taking place at what can be said to be an unprecedented pace in the tech world, is potentially way more far-reaching and platform-wrenching than the effort by a single company, Tripadvisor, to launch a booking feature. So the comparison has it flaws, but Kern’s hope that a reordering of the tech pecking order would be a consistent thread.

Among rapid-fire changes taking place in search, the Bing app now enables voice-based search powered by OpenAI, and claims “this new language model is more powerful than ChatGPT and [is] customized for search.” Bing’s parent company Microsoft is a major investor in OpenAI.

But if Kern and others in the travel industry hope that the emergence of generative AI will lead to a rebalancing of power as it relates to Google in the tech platform world, it is way to early to dismiss Google’s efforts.

Pundits almost unanimously count Google’s generative AI entry, Bard, as inferior to ChatGPT, but these are very early days, and Google has enormous tech resources to compete.

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Tags: accor, artificial intelligence, bard, best western, bing, chatgpt, choice hotels, expedia, google, hyatt, kayak, marriott, OpenAi, opentable, radisson, travel tech, tripadvisor, wyndham

Photo credit: Expedia is looking for a tech platform reordering. Pictured, Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern at Skift Global Forum on September 21, 2022 in Manhattan. Source: Skift

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