Interview: Esteban Walther, Google head of travel Europe – 8 Feb 2007

Esteban Walther, Google head of travel Europe

Should the travel industry consider Google a friend or foe? And do you think the sector is scared of Google?

We are very much a friend of the travel industry so I don’t think anyone is scared of us. In the UK we have a team of people working on travel accounts, all of whom have worked in the travel industry. Our products help the travel industry promote its holidays so it shouldn’t see Google as a foe.

Has pay-per-click advertising on certain keywords in travel become too expensive, and are the most expensive keywords now out of reach for some of the medium and smaller travel firms?

I don’t believe the most popular keywords have become too expensive. It’s an auction system, so companies only pay what they believe a keyword phrase is worth to them. Travel companies have also become much more sophisticated with their search marketing and are using the long tail strategy: advertising on cheaper specific search terms and not the more expensive generic phrases, to drive volume. The cost of sponsored link positioning also depends on the time, day, week and month.

Is it more important to rank higher on the natural search or on paid for pay-per-click results?

CV: Esteban Walther

AGE: 34. “I’m 35 on February 18. So nobody has any excuses for not sending me a card.”

LIVES: Notting Hill. “I’m half German and half Spanish but I count London as my home.”

FAVOURITE HOLIDAY DESTINATION: Home town of Barcelona. “I’m about to book a holiday to Zanzibar, which I’m really excited about.”

HOBBIES: Sailing and contemporary art

LAST BOOK READ:The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

LAST CD BOUGHT:In Between Dreams by Jack Johnson

The most successful search campaigns do both. We make sure all our advertisers know how natural search works. I compare paid-for and natural search to having a petrol station on both sides of a motorway. You need a station on both sides to pick up the most business. You can’t expect people to turn their cars around and head the other way to fill up. The more exposure a product gets the more likely it is to be sold.

What is the optimum size a travel company’s keyword account should be?

It depends on the size of the company, its volumes and what it’s trying to achieve from its keyword account. For Google, it doesn’t matter, we can handle any size.

If a travel company was looking to use either Google Earth, Google Maps or Google Video on its own website, which one of these would you recommend above the others?

It depends on the travel company’s objectives. Google Earth is about inspiring and interacting with the customer. Google Maps is added content that will help the consumer during the booking process or after it, whereas Google Video supports the booking process by giving customers a better idea of what they are booking.

Does Google have any plans to launch a travel-specific brand to rival other meta-search engines in the sector?

There are no plans for a Google travel meta-search site or agency. We have a travel team committed to helping the travel industry, not competing with it.

Is Google’s overwhelming dominance – 77.8% of all cross-industry searches, according to Hitwise – healthy or is it an unregulated monopoly?

Google is a consumer-centric business and the size of our share of the search market just shows we are giving a good service. Our aim is for consumers to spend as little time on Google as possible. We want them to find the information they are looking for so they quickly come off the Google system.

What future Google applications should the travel industry be looking to use?

Google has recently launched video adverts. They act as a square banner advert that travel companies can place on other websites to promote their product and drive traffic to their websites. The video is paused and it’s up to the consumer to decide to play it. Consumers are so much more empowered on the Internet and the video adverts are part of allowing them to view marketing messages when they want to.

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