As the saying goes about changes to the way Google displays flights, the devil will be in the details.
Under orders from the European Commission to enhance competition, Google plans to change the way it displays flight search results in European Union countries. But a major flights seller said it “firmly rejects” Google’s plan as not going far enough.
Spain-based eDreams Odigeo, which touts itself as one of the largest third-party flights sellers in the world, said Google’s plan continues to allow it to favor Google Flights over rival services.
Google’s changes are meant to comply with mandates from the European Commission’s new Digital Markets Act. eDreams Odigeo says Google’s plan “continues to raise substantial competitive concerns within the travel retailing industry, particularly by perpetuating long-standing self-favouring practices that actively encourage consumers to remain within Google’s ecosystem.”
What’s the Fuss About Google Flights?
Here’s an example: When consumers search for “New York to Paris flights” on Google, they’ll often see the “Google Flights unit” prominently in search results. When consumers select any of the airlines below the date grid, as seen below, they navigate directly to Google’s own flights business.
Rivals such as eDreams Odigeo, Kayak, Skyscanner and Tripadvisor have argued for years that the prominence of that unit has given Google an unfair advantage over their simple blue links.
What Google Plans To Do
Google has a March 7 deadline to comply with the Digital Markets Act.
Google stated last week that in addition to eliminating the Google Flights unit in search results, it plans to add new dedicated units that contain links from competitors. It also plans to add a tool for consumers to solely retrieve search results from comparison sites such Momondo and Skyscanner, for example.
While Google plans to do away with its flights unit, it will display blue links to Google Flights, which will still exist on its own pages.
It is difficult to capture exactly how Google plans to introduce the changes to flight search results; it is still in the testing phase. Only a small portion of users can view the changes at any time, and one must be in Europe to see them.
“The enforcement of the DMA provides a significant opportunity to address the persistent imbalance that has existed for years in the European digital landscape, creating a chance for a fairer and more equitable digital ecosystem,” said eDreams Odigeo CEO Dana Dunne, in a statement.
He added: “We urge continued vigilance and decisive action to ensure a marketplace that fosters healthier competition and fuels continued innovation for the benefit of all.”
eDreams Odigeo did not specify precisely how Google’s changes fall short.
The European Commission advised “gatekeepers” like Google — and Booking.com — to engage with rivals and consumers about the changes ahead of the deadline.
“eDreams Odigeo regrets that such consultations have not resulted at this stage in a solution that complies with DMA,” the company stated.
Asked what the eventual impact on rivals might be of Google’s changes to flight search results, Kayak CEO Steve Hafner said: “It’s a big unknown. But from past experience, they’re very adept at managing UX (user experience) changes over time to their benefit, despite the best intentions of regulators.”
Google Plans Changes to Hotel Search Results
Google stated last week that it also plans to introduce changes to the way it shows hotel search results.
“For categories like hotels, we will also start testing a dedicated space for comparison sites and direct suppliers to how more detailed individual results including images, star ratings and more,” Google stated.
These changes for flight and hotel search results do not directly impact the way Google displays these results outside the European Union.
In reaction to this story, Google stated: “The changes to the Search results page that we outlined recently are significant, including the introduction of dedicated units for comparison services and the removal of other units such as Google Flights, which consumers find useful. We’ve been seeking feedback from a range of stakeholders over many months and in over a dozen stakeholder events as we try to balance the needs of different stakeholders while complying with the law. That includes not just aggregators but the direct suppliers like airlines who previously received free traffic from units like Google Flights and will be impacted by our changes.”
Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Google.
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Photo credit: Google plans to change the way it displays flights in Europe under orders from the European Union. Pictured is a Lufthansa Airbus A319 at the Frankfurt Airport. Source: Fraport AG Fraport AG