Travel bosses wary of Google’s power play

Google’s plans to buy major airline and travel industry software provider ITA has holiday business executives crying foul amid fears the search giant could wield too much power.

Travel bosses wary of Google's power play

The search and software giant plans to buy ITA Software, an airline IT and services provider, and could use the system to provide up-to-the-minute information about fares and availability for people looking for flights through its search engine.

We are going to watch the potential to abuse dominance

ITA is a major source of information about air fares, with its data used by a slew of airlines, travel agents and other sites, including Hotwire, Kayak, Orbitz and Microsoft’s Bing.

The concern over a Google stranglehold is so real that Kayak offered to buy ITA to keep the company out of Google’s hands, a travel industry source close to the situation said. Kayak’s bid was backed by Expedia, but the talks went nowhere as Google was in exclusive negotiations with ITA.

“We are going to watch the potential to abuse dominance,” said Robert Birge, Kayak’s chief marketing officer, declining to confirm or comment on his company’s bid for ITA. “They have dominance on the general search side. When you couple that with ITA’s airline relationships there is reason to be concerned.”

“We have definitely heard from other folks, including on the agency side and on the supplier side,” he added. “They are concerned.”

The criticism centres around how Google might combine its dominance in the general search business with ITA’s strengths in the travel sector. ITA, for instance, provides data from its airline searches to others, including Kayak.

“What if they decided to stop providing that data?” asked Birge. “What if they only provided that data to the parent company? What if they provided better data for those airlines to their parent company?”

Industry executives want to see assurances that Google would keep the two entities separate, so that the search company would not benefit from direct access to airline data.

Investigation possible

The angry reaction means a Federal Trade Commission investigation into market dominance is likely.

“Google is in a position, because of its search dominance, to control all of these travel sites that have been using ITA,” said Gary Reback, a lawyer at Carr & Ferrell, referring to Google. “It can boost its own travel over anybody else, by using the power of its now vertically-integrated search engine and on top of that gets access to data it didn’t have before.”

While the travel industry frets, the option to run a search on the best prices and dates direct from the search engine – a service already provided by Bing – would have attraction for consumers.

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