Passenger becomes the product as Google evolves travel strategy

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Most people think of Google as a search engine, providing the information a user is looking for across any number of disciplines. In the travel search space that might mean using Google Flights or just sourcing details about a destination such as hotels and tours. At this year’s FTE Global conference in Las Vegas, Google’s Megan Danielson, head of travel industry, offered another view on how the company participates in the space:

“Google is a database of intentions,” she said.

So, what exactly does that mean, particularly in the context of travel and the passenger experience (#PaxEx)?

Google sees all of the web data it collects as part of the product it sells/displays to consumers. Flight data exposed through its purchase of ITA Software are also part of that collection activity. And display ads and click through options with that information makes the company a bit of money along the way.

Danielson also spoke about users’ search history and frequency, pointing out that what a customer is looking for is as much a part of the experience as the fact that a search was done in the first place. In other words, by performing a search the user is showing an intent. By tracking those intents a profile can be built around that user the same way information is collected about web pages, restaurants, shops or whatever else Google is aggregating. Customers are also the product.

Max Coppin a Google Partner development manager, noted that the company’s internal data collection rules are strict. A product group cannot decide to collect information now in hopes of it being useful later, for example. But if there are concrete plans around using that data then the sky’s the limit. Which can be great, or it can be creepy, depending on just how predictive the analysis becomes.

Google’s “Don’t be evil” corporate slogan may need to expand, adding “or creepy” to the end to ensure that customers continue to engage. And, along the way, travelers can expect that their research habits will change a bit, as will the results they see.

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