Yahoo gets travel bug

Yahoo pitched its tent early to take advantage of developments in the online travel industry when it announced a new service specialising in enhancing the travel “experience”.

The Trip Planner service will not only help customers book flights and hotels but weave together existing services such as maps, bulletin boards, blogs and local listings as well as allowing users to create personal travel itineraries and share photos.

The move reflects a trend followed by other sites such as, a travel “community” snapped up by Travelocity’s parent Sabre earlier this year. IAC/InterActiveCorp, the web conglomerate owned by Barry Diller, has also widened its footprint with the purchase of hotel review site TripAdvisor.

Most consumers got to one of the the “Big Three” travel sites - Travelocity, Expedia or Orbitz - but Yahoo recognises the potential of travel, which generates more sales than any other category of online commerce, and rightly wants to bag a lounger by the pool before they’re all taken.

The portal’s service will be free but is hoping make it pay through advertising drawn to its 180m registered users and 400m monthly visitors.

Google and eBay on new collision path

Yahoo isn’t the only internet giant branching into something new this week.

News that Google was testing a new service - Google Base - that could put into direct competition with eBay and other e-commerce companies circulated on the internet but was unconfirmed by Google itself.

The service allows internet users to submit information about a wide range of personal items free of charge to a publicly searchable database maintained by Google.

“We are testing a new way for content owners to submit their content to Google,” said the company coyly, while screen shots of the product appeared on web blogs.

Online blogs buzzed with word of Google’s motives for the free service - which would pay its way through classified advertising.

Allowing users to post information on, say, a used car for sale - free of charge - means Google could pose a head on challenge to the likes of auction pay-site eBay.

Internet companies are increasingly butting heads as they seek to expand their business. EBay and Google are already stepping on each other’s toes with both companies offering internet phone services and eBay buying its own search engine, Magellan.

Google has also been thinking of introducing its own online payment service - Google Wallet - which could rival eBay’s own PayPal service.

But Google is reluctant to push eBay too far becasue the auction room is one of the search engine’s biggest advertisers.

Google map angers the dragon

Meanwhile, Google is also heading for a blow up with an altogether more powerful foe - namely the People’s Republic of China - after it removed a reference to Taiwan as a province of the country on a map linked to Google Earth - its groundbreaking 3D global map - and its map search engine,

”This has drawn rage from Chinese officials and the people” said Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, which added that the California-based company had bowed “under “pressure of extremists in Taiwan’s pan-Green camp”.

China claims sovereignty over the breakaway island state, although some countries recognise Taiwan as an independent nation.

It remains to be seen what the repercussions will be for Google, which claims the change was made as part of a general review of its maps. Although, prior to the change, Google was under attack in the Taiwan press for caving into China by referring to the island as a province.

If Google has truely awakened the wrath of the Chinese dragon it can expect a whole arsenal of counter measures such as increased red tape, fines and even a complete shutdown - all of which have been used in the past against tech firms who won’t toe the line.

Most US companies are careful to abide by China’s rules with Microsoft even drawing criticism for helping the Chinese authorities restrict free speech.

Google could also face a boycott from China’s vast numbers of internet users at a time when national pride is on the rise.

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