Intent Media buys software firm Voyat, aims to keep travel ad bucks away from Google

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Intent Media, a privately held company that provides advertising tools for online travel agencies such as Expedia, is buying software startup Voyat in a bid to take travel ad dollars from search giants such as Alphabet Inc’s Google, the companies said on Tuesday.

Intent Media, whose investors include New York-based private and growth equity firm Insight Ventures, is paying an undisclosed sum for Voyat. Founded by chief executive Benjamin Habbel, a former chief of staff for Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer when she worked at Google, New York-based Voyat has raised $3 million to date in venture funding.

The deal is designed to give Intent Media, also based in New York, a better foothold in the hotel industry. Voyat makes software that helps hotels retain and book more guests though loyalty programs and personalized offers.

Consolidation has been sweeping the travel industry, with Expedia and larger rival by market capitalization Priceline Group, embarking on acquisition sprees to dominate the online travel business.

Google is a tough competitor because its search capabilities enable it to collect data on consumer interests and habits that could make it a compelling business partner for marketers, airlines, cruise companies and other travel sellers compared to online travel agencies.

Intent Media’s CEO Richard Harris said in an interview that most consumers abandon dozens of travel searches when planning a trip, and usually toggle between websites using Google.

To help steer users away from Google, Intent Media shows ads with prices for hotel rooms and flights on competing travel websites, so consumers feel like they are comparison shopping without going through Google. Online travel websites then get to keep a bigger slice of advertising revenue and dollars from clicking on the offers, Harris said.

“We want to keep revenue inside the travel sector rather than leaking out in the billions to Google,” chief executive Harris said.

Harris estimates that Priceline spends “about $2 billion per year” to access search traffic on Google. Priceline and Google declined to comment on that figure.

Intent Media, which was founded by former executives of travel agency site Travelocity, raised about $50 million in venture capital funding to date.

It has a valuation in the “hundreds of millions” but below $500 million, Harris said, adding the company does not anticipate raising any more funding.

(Reporting by Liana B. Baker in SAN FRANCISCO; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)