Google remains a big threat to airlines, but AI delivers a great opportunity if airlines can utilise it correctly

Many of us would have now heard Bobby Healy’s cautionary presentation on how Google is disrupting the travel space and ultimately may in the future control the relationship between airlines and their customers. The chief technology officer at CarTrawler continues to lament about the possible death of traditional forms of distribution, but the threat that Google poses to the travel industry is real.

“It’s not a cliche to say that data is the new oil – it’s absolutely true,” he said at the recent CAPA-ACTE Global Summit in London, as the “virtuous cycle” of data mining drives the rapid growth of today’s technology giants. Google has the power to “wipe out” review and metasearch sites, according to Mr Healy, based on increasing exploitation of its monopoly positions in Search, on Android apps, and in digital marketing to intercept consumer searches for branded airline names and to direct them first to its own or partner products.

Airlines have provided Google with their inventory and pricing data and as such have created the “perfect storm”, a monopoly with “unprecedented access”. “Data is power, power is control. Customer access, insight, data, location. They know everything about your customer,” he warned airlines.

“The more users there are, the more information Google collects. The more information you collect, the better your machine learning algorithms are. The better your algorithms are, the better the choices you make for customers and, therefore, the more customers you get,” explained the Irishman.

“The data that is critical to all of this from an airline perspective, is inventory and pricing. Right now, every airline in the world pretty much hands that data over to Google for free. Better still, they actually pay Google to take that data off them and sell it to their partners,” he added.

The Blue Swan Daily caught up with Bobby Healy after his presentation to learn more about how technology is influencing the travel space and in particular the role of conversational commerce. “It’s really easy to introduce Artificial Intelligence (AI) to reduce costs – it really is,” he explained. “But to translate that into an effective and scalable channel where you can really bring customers in and really save costs, you have to have a proper plan to go to market with and change consumer behaviour and airlines find that really difficult to do.”