By Yeoh Siew Hoon, Transit Cafe  

If you google “Troogle”, you may be forgiven for thinking that the rumours of an impending launch by Google of a vertical travel portal may not be that greatly exaggerated.

The rumours started surfacing last year – that the giant search engine would take what some people say is the logical next step, launch its own travel portal the way it has with Google Finance.

These were denied by Google but it did not stop the rumours which resurfaced earlier this year.

On March 7, an entry on said, “Word is that the clever gnomes at Google are going to drop a not so little surprise on the travel industry called Troogle. The current travel related searches get sent to the traditional OTAs (online travel agents). How long will that go on? Google is the master of paid search and extracting pennies from traffic. Lots of traffic=lots of pennies.”

It goes on, “Throw in Google’s cool maps and Google Earth…take a look at what they can do with they have now here. How long before Google takes a shot at the travel vendors? How much power does Google have to mess with the industry – we think a lot. How much power does it need? Maybe not so much.”

Now whether Troogle will actually materialize is still up in the air but just the thought of it has got some people hot under the collar, in particular, the OTAs (online travel agencies) such as Expedia or Travelocity and the meta-search sites such as SideStep, Kayak, Mobissimo and, in Asia, Sprice or Bezurk.

Already, Google is associated with all things search and it is estimated by some that at least 70% of all travel searches now go through Google. Think about it. You want to search destinations, hotels, air fares, anything, you tend to type in Google first.

The online distribution landscape at the moment is at best a murky one with all players still trying to grab their share and find their place in the universe. The OTAs disintermediated the travel agents – could they be disintermediated themselves; travel vendors want to grab back their inventory from the OTAs; the OTAs do not like the meta-search idea but the vendors do because it directs all bookings to them.

The thing is, most of us as consumers use the third party sites to search the best deals because we don’t trust the vendor sites, especially the airlines’. Air fares still remain one of the most opaque things around and airline sites are one of the biggest irritants to deal with.

Now if someone like Google could come along and strip away the opaqueness, voila …

Thing is, would we really see the emperor without clothes or just the same Emperor with new clothes? – April 12, 2007

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