Butler wants to talk about Google Maps. And, as Googles managing
director of travel, Butler also talks in heartfelt tones about
Google Local and how her company is hell-bent on securing
noncommercial content, ranging from information on hotel amenities
to user reviews, to populate its local search.
It is safe to say that
Butler, often described as Googles ambassador to the travel
industry, wants to talk about anything except
But, from conference to
conference, from interview to interview, Butler has been forced to
answer questions about metasearch and Googles intentions in that
Thats because Google.com in October
launched a Flight Links shortcut that features booking engines from
Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz, Priceline and Travelocity
-- and the entire industry, from Googles airline advertisers to the
metasearch crowd, is watching to see what Google will do with
I pestered Butler with
more questions. For the record, again, Butler said Google has no
specific plans to expand the Flight Links feature and has no
designs on entering the travel metasearch arena.
Heres how Flight Links
works: When users input two cities into the search box, the results
include a default link to Expedia for that route, suggested
departure and return dates and links to the booking engines from
the five participating online agencies.
After its launch, there
were whispers -- and some shouts -- that Google might use its clout
to become an online travel agency or that its selection of online
agencies as participants in Flight Links was a step to counter the
dominance of supplier-direct booking in metasearch
Butler acknowledged that
some people may perceive Flight Links as a hedge against the
metasearch engines but that the intent of Flight Links merely was
to improve the way Google users searched for flights.
She says Google
executives are pretty maniacal about continually improving the
search experience. So why did Google select online agencies instead
of airlines to improve searches? Googles product experts decided to
use agencies because their sites are more comprehensive than
airline sites, Butler said.
Google uses the booking
engines in Flight Links for free, Butler said, emphasizing that
Google has no commercial relationship with them in the endeavor.
She says there is no deep meaning to Expedia being the default
booking engine. Actually, Google said it chose Expedia because it
comes first in alphabetical order.
advertisers (and who isnt?) and some U.S. airlines, which are
trying to grow their direct-to-consumer business, are watching
Googles Flight Links experiment with keen interest. Northwest
Airlines says it monitors Google and other search engine features
on a regular basis and will continue to monitor and assess whether
to address issues directly with them.
spokesman Billy Sanez said: We are in observation mode.
I think the industry
will keep watching its development and every nuance about
After all, just because
youre paranoid, it doesnt mean theyre not out to get