Last month The BTN Group met with its Advisory Board, including an on-the-record discussion about various issues in travel management. With Google having launched its Flights product some days earlier, board members offered a variety of impressions about the tech giant's potential impact in corporate travel. A sampling follows.
Management Alternatives consultant Will Tate: "The corporate model is company-centric and personal model is me-centric, and as technology and apps make everything better for me--the seat I want, restaurant recommendations, to connect with friends--when that kind of Google influence happens on a personal level, it's so much easier to buy. And when it's 20 percent cheaper than what I got on a corporate booking tool, that's the pressure. Why would I not want to pursue those and build a case against a managed system? That's where the issue is; it's not Google-specific."
Rearden Commerce's Tony D'Astolfo: "It will have a huge impact on the corporate side because the next generation of corporate travelers grew up using Google as a search engine and they will recognize the ease that Google brings to their life. We use [Google's] ITA Software and Google will make ITA better because they have a huge infrastructure for processing, and they think they can reduce the search speed. People already look at that as compared with what they get at work, so it's going to be a huge impact just on the frame of reference."
Flo Lugli of Wyndham Worldwide: "You might wind up seeing suppliers who think it's more cost-effective to advertise through Google flight search to the lightly managed travel segment of the market than to be employing 50 sales people to try and hit them. We look at Google as a "frenemy" because from a hotel perspective there's a huge risk relative to them becoming the intermediary to the brand. A consumer can get everything from Google, including reviews. Looking at the Hotel Finder product, three prices pop up and they're all OTAs, and we have to pay to show the same price? That's a little frightening for us. In the hotel industry, there's a lot of talk about OTAs but we keep an eye on Google.?"
Steve Reynolds, The R Group: "It will bleed over. It might cause some angst for travel managers, but you're still going to buy through your company. It reminds of when Microsoft got into travel. There was a sky-is-falling [attitude] but it was kind of a non-event for corporate travel and I think Google will be the same thing. Online travel agencies are a little nervous, probably the GDSs are a little nervous."
Sabre's Chris Kroeger: "It's a reflection of a competitive marketplace. What we're hearing is our customers want to continue to see all options, all fares and they want it fast but also it needs to be available. They want it inside policy. So our focus is to continue to innovate in those ways. Competition is good, and our job is to keep investing and staying ahead."
The BTN Group Advisory board also includes Neil Abrams of Abrams Consulting, Kevin Austin of TRX, Lane Dubin of American Express Business Travel, InterContinental Hotels' Mike Fegley, Hyatt's Jack Horne, United's Dave Hilfman, StarCite's Kevin Iwamoto, Mike Janssen of BCD Travel, Mike Koetting of Concur, HRG's Tom Lacny, Robert Lambert of Avis Budget, Andrew Menkes of Partnership Travel Consulting, Frank Morogiello of American Airlines, Frank Petito of Orbitz for Business, ARC's Mike Premo, Dee Runyan at Radius, Delta's Steve Sear, Jay Singer of MasterCard and travel buyers Tom Barrett, Maria Chevalier, Michelle De Costa, Cindy Gillen, Cindy Heston, Mick Lee, Karoline Mayr, Kevin Maguire, Joe Preimesberger and Cindy Shumate.