Google can be credited with opening up a world of choice in…well everything. In travel, Trip Advisor are the brand of choice for consumer reviews of travel destinations and products. The transformation of these erstwhile benign giants into muscular, commercial behemoths has been impressive, stealthy and rapid. While Google are not as specifically about travel as Trip Advisor, Priceline and Expedia, they have a lot of skin in the game.
Followers of the long tail theory know that technology and speficically online commerce has enabled the retail strategy of offering a large number of unique products in relatively small quantities (usually in addition to offering a few big sellers in huge volumes).
Consumers have undoubtedly benefited from being able to find and book anything online from a luxury trout-fishing holiday in Quebec to an out of print book or rare music recording hitherto unavailable through bricks and mortar channels.
Market theory and the corporate imperative to increase profit also tell us that regardless of the means of distribution and the technology used, consolidation, mega-mergers and the concentration of power into the hands of a few big players limits consumer choices and the bargaining power of suppliers.
Google and Trip Advisor’s ability to gear technology to favour their own booking platforms is their competitive right, but as this Tnooz article outlines, it is worrying that they are both using this clout to overtly prompt users to choose from only the top three booking options with the option they each have a direct commercial stake in being given top billing. To me, this has momentum toward the supermarket practice of giving premium shelf-space to the handful of suppliers that accept the lowest price (or pay the highest price for distribution of) their product. It might be fair play in the market place, but its becoming less defensible for the handful of mega players to claim with a straight face that they are all about what’s good for the consumer.