Google on social, new travel business models and mobile

We managed to grab some time recently with Ali Yilmaz, travel head for South East Asia at Google.
Here follows a Q&A with Yilmaz about various issues including consumer buying patterns and changes, social media and innovation around the travel industry.


What are the most significant shift in travel consumers’ demands and online behaviour? How should travel companies react?

Travel consumers’ demands and online behaviours started to change long before the downturn. The internet was itself a very significant turning point in the travel industry; it was a traveller’s ‘dream’ come true on the computer screen. What we have seen in the recent years is a faster shift towards online and a variety of technologies emerging within.

Travellers’s online behaviours are changing every other day; 20% of all searches in the first 90 days of 2010 were never seen on Google before. Billions of searches were done and still, people find new ways of searching. On the other hand, consumers are adapting mobile technologies rapidly. In 2010, one in four internet minutes were on mobile. In two years, mobile internet users are expected to surpass desktop internet users and in four years time mobile searches are expected to surpass desktop searches.

Travel companies should closely monitor these changes in technology and consumer behaviour, and act quickly. There used to be a time when we were reluctant with new technology and therefore some preferred the “lets wait and see” strategy. Unfortunately we don’t have the time to “wait and see” anymore, it is time to adapt “as quick as possible”.

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Google’s Street View goes Off Road (by bike)

Google streetview bike (trike)While I write about Google’s Street View and their cars with mounted cameras that have caused considerable distress in some places of the world, I have never seen one in the wild. Another thing I have never seen is one of the Google Street View trikes that have been going places that cars can’t go.

These trikes (to the right) have been busy for the past two years gathering data from places that cars just can’t get to. The trike was developed by a Google engineer during his 20% time on the job. reports

Google’s Street View service has mostly been limited to places where cars mounted with cameras can drive. But now, Street View increasingly will include images of public and private sites ranging from selected hiking trails of the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve near Los Altos to Sea World Orlando to Kew Gardens in London.

To extend Street View to places beyond the reach of its ubiquitous Toyota Prius fleet, Google is using ungainly, 250-pound, 9-foot-long, human-powered trikes with a 7-foot stalk of cameras on the back. The trikes were the brainchild of Google engineer Daniel Ratner, who visited cobblestone alleys impassible to cars in Barcelona, Spain, and realized Google needed something to record universities, parks, trails and other places, many of them private, where cars can’t go.
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Paid search proves effective for small retailers with Googles new local services

As Geo-targeting Drives Hypergrowth at Facebook, Groupon, Search Giant Supplements Science With Salespeople

After years of fits and starts, Google’s latest push into local online advertising suddenly looks serious — and even professed internet novices like Barbara Oliver are noticing.

The owner of an eponymous boutique jeweler, Ms. Oliver depends on advertising to drive people to her hard-to-find third-floor shop in Williamsville, N.Y., near Buffalo. Not satisfied with TV and other advertising on which she spent $40,000 last year, she hired a consultant who bought $50 a month worth of Google search ads targeted to an 80-mile radius around Buffalo and set up a web page in the Google Places local directory service. That netted her enough new business that she has slashed her other ad spending by 40%. “Now I’m getting more people who say they found me on Google,” Ms. Oliver said.

Some 6 million businesses worldwide have claimed Google Places pages.

Google placesGoogle aims to reach many of the millions of other businesses like Ms. Oliver’s that want to attract potential customers nearby. After failing to crack radio and print advertising several years ago and still struggling in TV ads, Google views local online advertising — both by national brands and by smaller businesses such as restaurants and plumbers — as a juicy target. “It’s a big focus for me this year,” said Susan Wojcicki, Google’s senior VP-product management and the search giant’s top ad products executive. “It’s a huge opportunity where we can do things we haven’t done before.”

Google in recent months has unleashed a flurry of new local services and ad formats and expanded others. In an especially noticeable change to its search results, last October it tweaked its search engine to make local businesses and listings, including Google Places, much more prominent in response to a likely local-oriented query. The same month, Google moved Marissa Mayer, its high-profile VP-search products and user experience, to VP-consumer products, where her main job will be developing new geographic and local services.
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