ITA writes the code that powers the search engine behind Orbitz, CheapTickets, Kayak, Bing Travel, and a list of airlines. They also manage their own fare search site. ITA’s search site exists in seemingly perpetual beta, but it’s incredibly useful for finding complex itineraries that don’t automatically pop up in the usual booking sites.
In and of itself, it’s news that Google is committing to the travel space. But how might this affect the way we buy airline tickets?
Google says they’re not about to compete with agencies or airlines themselves. Their press info for the buyout reads: “Google won’t be setting airfare prices and has no plans to sell airline tickets to consumers.” (Somewhere, someone is sighing relief. Someone else is sighing in disappointment.)
Offhand, I actually don’t think Orbitz and CheapTickets (both part of the same company…) are at immediate risk, just because Google now owns their key data supplier. Google says (for now) that they don’t want to enter the travel sales business, so they won’t want to hurt what has to be one of their biggest clients.
So whose business is at risk? Which sites are in trouble? To me, it looks like a bad day for Kayak.com, Bing Travel, and any other metasearch sites that use ITA.
The metasearch business model is predicated on organizing information. So is Google’s. And much of Kayak’s information is coming from ITA. Google could easily take the ITA software engine and create a Kayak-esque site. And while Kayak has gotten a lot of attention over the years, it’s nowhere near the scale of Google. Kayak is at risk.
Not quite at the same level of risk, given the umbrella they’re under, but still in a weird position: Bing. Because Microsoft’s Bing also uses ITA, Google would suddenly become a supplier to Microsoft. An odd couple.
In a couple years, Kayak and its ilk may be marginal players in a field dominated by Google.
And Kayak must have seen the risks that Google poses. After all, Kayak itself was itself reportedly a failed bidder for ITA, alongside Expedia and Travelport.