Tech giants Google and Alibaba are bigger travel threats than ever

Travel tech players not the only competition

While much attention in the travel industry has been given to “disrupters” like Airbnb and Uber, the continual foray of tech giants into the travel space is increasingly posing a bigger worry for industry players in the longer term.

The huge growth potential in the online travel space, particularly in Asia-Pacific, is attracting attention from non-travel players, noted Rob Brown, Travelport’s group vice president and managing director – OTA, speaking during a panel at the recent Travelport Live conference in Bangkok.

Travel tech players not the only competition; Google is fast making inroads with the all-important data advantage on it side

“We’re not looking at competition among ourselves – which OTA is growing the fastest or online versus offline,” he remarked.

“Competition is really coming from big technology players. Certainly, Google and Alibaba are already very much in the travel space, but many other companies are coming along as well.”

A poll conducted during a panel discussion at Travelport Live revealed that most attendees regarded Google the biggest threat to travel brands, more so than other tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba or Tencent.

As Google fleshes out its flight and hotel comparison tools, Expedia is feeling the heat too, said James Marshall, the OTA giant’s vice president, transport partner services, Asia-Pacific.

Search engine heavyweights such as Google and Baidu are perceived as a major threat

“We have a complex relationship with Google. We are probably one of their biggest customers but we’re in a way competitors; they have Google Flights and we work with them. We work as competitors providing content but as competitor they’re also great source of business sources for us,” he conceded.

Gawin Tsang, e-commerce manager, IT department, Nan Hwa (Express) Travel Service, a B2B travel wholesaler in Hong Kong, is also wary of Google’s travel push. “Google is already a competitor. Everyone can get info easily through search,” he said.

“The more channels that Google gets into, the harder it is for us to survive. We need to sell more to get the same revenue,” remarked Tsang.

He pointed out that both Apple and Google already own 90 per cent of the mobile ecosystem, which allow these two tech giants to easily capture travel data and get insights on what they’re looking for. “It’s only a matter of how, not when,” he said.

Amid intensifying competition, Brown urged travel players to do an “outstanding job with data”, in order to better deliver customer personalisation in an age where travellers are valuing experiences over assets.

Questioned Brown: “We need to stay relevant. Do you want to be an innovator and come along for the journey or be left behind?”

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