Online Power Moves

As the new year gets under way, there's a potential online development on the horizon that bears watching. By: Kenneth Shapiro
Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Shapiro
Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Shapiro

As the new year gets under way, there's a potential online development on the horizon that bears watching. Even as Expedia battles American Airlines over access to the airline's inventory of flights, a potentially bigger issue is brewing as Google attempts to purchase ITA Software. The $700 million deal would give Google control of the primary software used by many of the major travel websites, including Bing Travel, TripAdvisor, Orbitz, Kayak, Hotwire, CheapTickets and others.

Critics fear the deal could give Google a virtual monopoly on travel searches. Recently, several companies, including Expedia, Kayak and Microsoft, formed an organization called FairSearch.org to encourage government regulators to carefully examine the deal for antitrust violations. Also, according to a recent article in The New York Times, Senator Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, told the Justice Department in a letter, "This deal has the potential to greatly impact the robust online air travel search and booking markets relied on today by millions of consumers."

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that Google points out it plans to honor existing ITA agreements; that the acquisition will make comparison shopping easier; and that it has no interest in selling tickets directly.

As the legal wrangling and government lobbying intensifies, industry experts are keeping a close eye on what this might mean for travel agents, among others. At last month's U.S. Tour Operators Association conference, Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel analyst at Forrester Research, called the Google-ITA deal one of the most important industry trends to watch. In the ever-changing landscape of online travel, this may be one shift you want to be prepared for.
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