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Consumer Advocate: Google Domination of Travel Could Harm Consumers and Businesses

Consumer advocate and nationally syndicated columnist Christopher Elliott writes in his latest Washington Post column that “To suggest that Google isn’t in travel to do anything less than dominate in the same way would be naïve,” and that “it isn’t difficult to imagine Google controlling most online travel purchases in the not-too-distant future.”

These are strong words from Elliott, who is the National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate. In his piece, he also writes, “I can’t imagine this breathtaking dominance escaping the attention of regulators much longer.” As he noted today, this is a bit of a change in direction for Elliott. While he initially wrote for the Washington Post on October 5, 2011 that “Google Flight Search is … notable for its shortcomings,” in October, he also offered:

“But what about a year from now? Will Google kill off some of the other popular travel sites we rely on today? As one who sounded the alarm when Orbitz launched — and ended up with virtual egg yolk dripping down my face — I’m hesitant to join the chorus of critics.”

In contrast to his first take on Google Flights, Elliott writes in his most recent column:

“I can’t imagine this breathtaking dominance escaping the attention of regulators much longer. But if it does — if Google takes over travel — there could be serious and long-lasting consequences that could harm consumers and businesses. Imagine what might happen to an airline or hotel company that disagrees with the way Google prices its products when it holds a commanding market share in travel? It could be cut off from millions of customers with a single keystroke.

“What if Google knocks off one or two online travel agencies, or a company such as Kayak, which searches multiple sites for flights? Where do we go when our only viable option is Google? What would happen to innovation when one company controls so much?

‘Consumers would pay higher prices for airfares and other products and services as a result of Google coming to dominate the online travel market,’ predicts Ben Hammer, a spokesman for FairSearch, a coalition of travel companies that compete with Google.

Do we really want to live in that world?”

Needless to say, FairSearch and its members certainly do not. And we don’t believe consumers do either.