Are UK Independent Travel Agents Under Threat From Google Flight Search?

The short answer is no (and yes at the same time).

But before we dive into our SWOT analysis of the development of Flight Search, let’s take a second to explain what it is.

What is Google Flight Search?

ITA Software is a US based technology company, who found success providing search and data management services to some of the travel industry’s big names. And due to their success, ITA were acquired by Google back in April 2011.

5 months later, Google launch Flight Search, with the aim to change how we, as consumers, find and book our flights.

At the moment, Google Flight Search (GFS) is limited to airline tickets for US based airlines and airports.

How Does Google Flight Search Affect The Independent Travel Agent?

To encourage buy-in and participation from the Airlines, GFS only featured flight details and pricing offered directly from airlines.

This had two problems:

1. The user was probably under the impression they were getting results from the entire travel industry, covering all the best deals. But they were only getting a small sub-set.
2. As results from online travel agents and comparison sites weren’t being included, Google risked upsetting some of their biggest advertising customers.

And so by extension of point 2, the local travel agents weren’t getting a look in either.

As GFS has evolved, Google has continued to experiment with ways to include results from travel agents. At present links to travel agent sites are being displayed in a new ad format, and only selected travel agents are being invited to participate.

So, as you can see, as a local independent travel agent based in Brighton, we are not getting any help from Google Flight Search.

But, speaking boldly, we aren’t too concerned.

Flight Search Engines Are What Keeps Us Focused

At the moment, Google Flight Search is really only useful for people looking for flights on a selected number of US airlines.

We pride ourselves on offering a complete travel service, for business and leisure travellers. And don’t forget, this extends beyond air travel and includes rail and sea.

Our customers are also normally based in the south of England, and their destinations are global, so US airlines may not always offer the best pricing or routes.

Raising Our Game

Having said we’re not too concerned, it doesn’t mean we’re not keeping one eye on developments or using the situation to raise our game.

When a major company like Google makes a move into your market, you need to sit up and take notice. We’ve done just that, and it’s changed how we work to improve speed & accuracy of travel offers.

Google’s Flight Search experience is actually pretty good. It’s fast and it’s intuitive, and it’s good at returning relevant results.

Just like Google, we appreciate speed and accuracy of information is important to a traveller when making holiday or business travel arrangements. To ensure we can return the best travel deals quickly, we continue to invest in the latest travel booking technology.

Service: The Local Travel Agent’s Trump Card

No doubt you’ll agree, the one thing online-only travel agents or search engines will never be able to compete with local independent travel agents on is service.

Nothing comes close to being able to speak to a human. A real person, with years of travel experience, first-hand knowledge and inspirational know-how. And a machine will never be able to pull out all the stops when you’re in a spot of bother. Unlike our travel consultants who are on hand before, during and after booking, so every one of our customers has a point of contact to manage their reservation from start to finish.

The personal service we pride ourselves on will always be our biggest asset.

So, to return to the original question: Are local independent travel agents like us, under threat from Google Flight Search? As long we continue to offer impeccable levels of service, I don’t think so.

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