Google wades deeper into Expedia’s territory with new travel and cloud pact with Sabre

A Google building in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / James Thorne)

Google is taking a major step in its travel push, teaming up with travel giant Sabre Corp. in a new 10-year alliance.

Sabre is a 60-year-old company that rose to prominence by creating the “industry’s first semi-automated flight reservation system,” according to a press release on the deal with Google. Today, Sabre manages more than $260 billion worth of global travel spending and its customers include airlines, hotels, online travel companies and more.

Sabre will move the bulk of its IT infrastructure over to Google Cloud. But the alliance goes beyond a typical cloud deal, and the two companies say they will work together to “co-create the future of travel.”

The deal further accelerates the growing rivalry between Google and Seattle travel giant Expedia. Sabre and Expedia have a history of technology partnerships. They were even acquisition partners in 2015 when Expedia scooped up online travel brand Travelocity from Sabre for $280 million.

Google operates the search engine and advertising platform that Expedia and other online travel companies rely on for large chunks of traffic. Travel is one of the industry verticals where Google has faced antitrust scrutiny over the years, in the U.S. and Europe, and other online travel companies have called for regulators to look at travel again as part of new inquiries into Google’s practices. Media mogul Barry Diller, Expedia’s chairman, is among those who have called for increased regulation of Google.

Now with this deal, Google will be linked to a major technology provider for the travel industry. Sabre is one of three companies along with — Travelport and Amadeus — that control more than 95 percent of the market for global distribution systems, the primary tools used by travel agents for booking trips.

The two companies didn’t give specifics about the tools they’ll work on together. But they did say they’ll bring together talent and assets from both organizations to create a new marketplace and advance the travel ecosystem.

“Travelers seek convenience, choice and value. Our capabilities in AI and cloud computing will help Sabre deliver more of what consumers want,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a statement.

Google’s push into the travel market dates back nearly a decade, but it has stepped up in recent years. In 2011, it launched Google Flights, later adding booking capabilities. Google Maps and Search have added hotel details and prices, bypassing more traditional online travel agencies.

In September, Google teamed up with Portland, Ore. vacation rental company Vacasa in an alliance that could telegraph the search giant’s growing travel ambitions. Through Google’s hotel search function, Vacasa’s more than 14,000 vacation rentals now appear on interactive maps that customers can peruse to see what’s available.

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