Google is squeezing competing travel services for ad payments

Bing and even Facebook have more empathy for travel companies dealing with the pandemic than Google does. Which is really saying something.

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On Tuesday, CNBC reported on the months-long battle between Google and numerous online travel companies. GetYourGuide, Trivago, Home ToGo, and others have struggled to pay their advertising bills during the pandemic, but Google hasn’t been sympathetic to their plight. As Google Travel gains an imposing foothold in online travel and Google Search controls the competition’s ability to advertise, it’s hard to read the latter’s coldness as anything other than calculated.

The travel feud — Experience and activity booking service GetYourGuide, hotel aggregator Trivago, and Airbnb competitor Home ToGo are just a few of the companies grinding against the Google machine. GetYourGuide, Trivago, and six other German travel startups penned an open letter to Google to postpone bill collection.

“Google refused to do anything and instead asked us to pay immediately in the midst of the pandemic,” GetYourGuide Chief Executive Johannes Reck told CNBC.

All of the companies would’ve been good for the cash had Google offered an extension. They all paid in full in June or July. Comparatively, Bing and Facebook were far more lenient and understanding. Bing offered a minimum of 90-day payment delays with the opening for extensions through an ongoing review process. Facebook offered a more conservative 60-day extension for some companies and also supplied credits to test out ad products.

Though Google initially threw $340 million into ad credits for existing accounts back in March, it seems like aid for travel companies in particular has been lukewarm, at best. A spokesperson told CNBC: “We’ve taken a number of measures including helping them surface their cancellation policies in our travel search products.”

On May 8, a few weeks after the open letter made the rounds, Google asked GetYourGuide to pay what it owed without any discounts or credits for refunded bookings. The following week Google held a call with online travel companies, promising a generous recovery package, but those promises fell short. By the end of the month, though it finally offered a payment plan, Google threatened companies’ accounts with suspensions if they didn’t comply.

All hail the inevitability of Google Travel — Since Google acquired flight data platform ITA in 2010, Google’s travel services have steadily become major players in the online travel industry. Though Google has catapulted many of the jilted, aforementioned companies to success, many worry that these partnerships are just strengthening Google’s own products.

“Google has better travel data than any other company on the planet,” Reck told CNBC. “We see Google aggressively moving forward trying to get content from other companies in the travel space in order to build their own products.”

Google Trips was recently integrated into Maps, and now, along with its Hotels app, these services are working together to provide users with safer travel options during the pandemic. While others face setbacks, Google is powering its way to becoming the internet’s go-to travel agency, and for now, it answers to no one.