Google's Search Ad Embrace Crushes Online Travel Agents

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Expedia Group third quarter results fell the most in 14 years
  • Booking Holdings shares dropped 8 percent
  • Travel agents blame Google’s increasing ad push in Search

Google’s moves to cram the top of its search results with more and more advertising is hammering the online travel industry, one of the company’s biggest customers. Expedia Group Inc. fell the most in 14 years on Thursday and TripAdvisor Inc. dropped the most in two years after the companies put reported dismal third-quarter results and laid the blame on Google. Booking Holdings Inc.’s shares dropped 8%, too, wiping out a combined market value of more than $13 billion from the three online travel agents.

Google dominates the online search market, with at least three quarters of the market. People use the search engine to research trips, so for at least a decade online travel agents have refined their websites with trustworthy content and easy booking tools to show up high in Google results.

This search engine optimization, or SEO, worked well until about five years ago. Around that time, Google began placing more ads on the top of search results, pushing down the free listings. The internet giant also built new travel search tools, which were mostly paid listings, too. This means online travel agents now must pay billions of dollars each year to Google to ensure they show up high in search results and get clicks from travel planners.

The online travel industry has been concerned about Google’s changes since at least 2016. But the full impact was felt this week.