Google's acquisition of the Frommer's travel brand on Monday is the latest evidence of the Internet search giant's desire to control all the experiences around travel - from where to go and how to get there, to guidance on what to see and do.
The ability to provide trusted content and deliver relevant ads is critical to Google as it competes with other mobile travel companies - such as Yelp, Foursquare and TripAdvisor - in the lucrative market for local travel guide information.
Frommer's - including its guidebook content, Frommers.com and mobile apps - joins Google's expanding stable of travel assets including Zagat Survey, a restaurant reviewer it bought last year, and ITA Software, a developer of airfare search and pricing systems, bought in 2010. Terms of the Frommer's purchase from publisher John Wiley & Sons were not disclosed.
Google already offers Google Flights and Hotel Finder, which are search tools that allow customers to look up itineraries and that refer customers to other booking engines. Google has said it's not interested in entering any booking or transaction business, but its role as a traffic cop in travel planning could disrupt the fragmented travel search industry and threaten competitors such as Kayak.com and Bing Travel.
U.S. travelers spent about $27 billion on travel activities, attractions, events and tours in 2009, finds travel research firm PhoCusWright.
Google's aspirations may extend to offering its own one-stop travel information app in new versions of Android, its mobile operating system, says travel tech analyst Norm Rose. "With Frommer's, you get a lot of curated content," he says.
Frommer's hotel reviews, in particular, could be a boon for Google, Rose says, estimating that hotel bookings on mobile devices will rise to $2.1 billion in the U.S. by next year.
Apple is also poised to dive into the travel category, filing patents for iTravel, a mobile app for storing airline reservations and, analysts predict, a centralized source for other types of travel bookings. In its iOS 6 operating system, due this fall, Apple will include Passport, a feature for storing boarding passes, movie tickets and retail coupons. Users will be able to scan their iPhones to check in for flights and can be alerted when flight times change.
Some 57% of travelers start their destination selection process on a search engine, PhoCusWright says. "But they turn to services such as TripAdvisor and online travel agencies for travel planning and shopping," says Douglas Quinby, senior director of research for PhoCusWright. "Content is critical, and Google needs it."