Uber, operator of the popular ride-hailing platform and current darling of technology investors, was awarded a patent that could signal its entry into the online travel agency business.
In its patent application, the company outlined its vision of a perfectly timed end-to-end trip: no waiting in lines, no worries that your driver got tired of waiting for your delayed flight to arrive or that your hotel gave your room away.
Uber Travel would achieve this vision by monitoring all aspects of the trip and communicating with airlines, hotels, and customers as needed.
Customers would use either an online Uber Travel portal or its mobile app. Uber Travel would link with flight, hotel, and alternative accommodation booking systems and provide recommendations that cover the entire trip.
Uber also would notify travelers of the optimal time to request transport to or from an airport.
The system would monitor flight and vehicle delays, and alert the appropriate airline and hotel systems, re-accommodating the traveler when necessary.
The system “can include or access a sub-system which tracks the geo-aware resources of the mobile devices of drivers and users in order to provide real-time information affecting the status of the transport service,” the patent application says. For example, it could determine a time-to-reach pickup interval by using an airport map to estimate distance and walking pace from the gate to baggage claim and/or the exit.
It would incorporate an estimated time of delivery of a checked bag as well.
It is not certain whether Uber will go ahead with the plan—companies often apply for patents simply to ensure that competitors don’t get there first—but pundits are suggesting that Uber Travel could pose a real challenge to the likes of Expedia and Priceline.
Not so fast, said Timothy O’Neil-Dunne, managing partner of T2Impact Ltd., a technology consultancy, and co-founder of VaultPAD Ventures, a start-up accelerator focused on aviation and travel.
If Uber intends to create Uber Travel, “they’re insane,” he said. “You cannot make money out of the OTA business on its own anymore. There has to be something else.”
Uber is in the transportation business, which is fundamentally different from the travel business, he said.
“Uber is about instant gratification and high frequency. Travel is about leisurely shopping, much research, and, occasionally, a purchase,” O’Neil-Dunne said.
If Uber is serious about entering the travel industry, “the insanity of their hubris in thinking they can parlay this completely different product into something else shows they really aren’t thinking.”