No one truly knows how generative AI will shake up the travel industry. Will Google stick with advertising instead of booking? Meanwhile, Booking feels it has advantages as a booking site.
It’s not without its tensions, but Google and Booking Holdings have long had a mutually beneficial relationship: Google gets billions of dollars from Booking’s ads, and Booking benefits from all of the customers Google sends along.
Booking CFO David Goulden was asked Wednesday at an investor conference about the risk that Google could eventually release a “next-gen travel assistant.” Would travelers use that first before Booking’s own tools?
Goulden argued that Google will stick with travel advertising and won’t get into bookings, an area where Booking has built-in advantages as one of the world’s largest online travel agencies.
Goulden said he’s sure Google will still want to monetize its search business, and make it attractive for large customers like Booking, which is one of Google’s largest advertisers. The CFO noted that Booking has been rolling out its own travel assistant tools, adding “so I’m sure as their search experience evolves, we’ll evolve with them as we’ve done over many years.”
Booking Holdings already has a variety of AI travel assistant tools released by its various brands, including Booking.com, Priceline, Kayak and OpenTable. On the other hand, Google’s AI chatbot Bard offers travel extensions with real-time availability for hotels and airlines.
“We’ll have a great planning tool as well, but that’s probably where [Google will] stop because what these travel systems won’t have is the full depth of capability that we as an online travel agent have,” Goulden said. “We have active relationships with over 3 million properties around the world in the accommodation space where we have real-time availability.
“That’s not available publicly. We have similar with airlines and all the other players. We have thousands of people doing customer service. We have a payments platform where you can pay for it all in one place and manage, and I can go on and on.”
Google’s Advantages Over Booking
Google obviously has many advantages over Booking given Google’s current grip on search and its massive resources.
But it’s also unclear at this juncture how the outcome of the various lawsuits and antitrust regulatory initiatives against Google would impact its dominance of search.
Goulden argued for Booking’s built-in advantages. “We believe the combination of our travel assistant sitting inside of our data and with the travel assistant having access to public data and all the data we have, we think we can still build in totally a differentiated travel offering.”
There’s another factor on Booking’s side of the ledger: More than half of its website traffic comes direct to its own websites and apps without a boost from paid ads on Google.
Said Goulden: “And we believe in that world, we continue to increase or direct mix.”
Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.