Sounding Off: Google’s alienation of travel brands masks the ecosystem’s other issues

Travel CEO

“If Google isn’t careful they’ll wake up one morning and the only travel advertisers they’ll have left participating in their auction will be Booking and Expedia.”

Quote from a travel CEO in an article on PhocusWire this week on Google freezing the ad accounts of some travel brands.

Each Friday, PhocusWire dissects and debates an industry trend or new development covered on our site that week.

Another week, another round of issues surrounding Google and its role in the world of travel advertising.

As the story goes, at least one travel brand is getting heat from Google over unpaid bills for advertising and the heavies in the shape of Accenture have been sent in to sort things out.

We know it’s more than just one brand in a similar spot as Google’s response to our story talked about cases in the plural.

No surprise there – it’s been a tough time for every travel brand on the planet. Even Google experienced a 2% drop in revenue in Q2 2020 to a paltry $83 billion, although we suspect few will be shedding tears over this decline.

It’s fairly likely that the publicity around the debt collection will perhaps rein in some of the aggressive tactics being deployed, and some semblance of calm will descend on the situation.

This happens in the business world more often than gets reported, it would be worth pointing out.

Perhaps it would be also fair to say that this pandemic, rather than inspiring the likes of Google and others to ease up a little and breathe some fresh air into the heat of painful circumstances, has ignited the opposite strategy.

That can’t be good for anyone in the long-term.

Elsewhere, GetYourGuide and a bunch of fellow German travel startups have been briefing the media about their anger over Google’s anti-competitive behavior (with the ad debts angle resurfacing in part in the story, too).

Their concerns – taking data, conspiring against them, unfair monopoly, etc. – are common in many boardrooms in the industry and do not need repeating here (watch this clip for what remains the best overview of the problem), only to say that this latest round of anti-Google rhetoric did trigger some new issues.

First of all: why now? What’s triggered it this time?

Some might point to Google’s inevitable decision to place tours and activities into its wider travel advertising ecosystem (not really surprising or a game-changer after it folded in the Touring Bird test bed for that sector last October).

Others might say that brands should be able to voice their annoyance over Google at any time. And so they should, but some might consider the timing as a little odd.

Secondly, perhaps awkwardly, as GetYourGuide’s CEO, Johannes Reck, took to Twitter to comment on the various bits of coverage in the mainstream media, one of his own partners pointed out the brand’s own terms and conditions prevents suppliers from bidding in Google against it.

“Everyone is upset with the company one layer closer than them to their customer,” commented Autoura CEO Alex Bainbridge.

This is the crux of the problem. There is an inherent unfairness to every ecosystem – it’s just sometimes amplified in different ways.

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