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Google launches a hotel search site: “This will shake up online travels”

Google has launched a full destination search site engine for hotel listings. This move could possibly shake up online travel bookings to the core.

Google’s Richard Holden published an article under the title “There’s still time to plan your perfect spring break trip”, that showcased a range of new features from their search engine. google.com/hotels revealed a full-scale hotel search site with definite similarities to Airbnb’s clean, uncluttered, map-based interface.

Google has consolidated various elements of its hotel search experience in one platform. There are several new ways to filter results, including deals determined by Google based on current and historic pricing data. Price comparing is still a frustrating experience and seems under development.

The online booking platform sphere is fierce – it is a competitive lion’s den. Expedia and Booking Holdings spent 10.6 billion dollars on brand advertising in 2018.  If they weren’t already, hotels need to be taking very seriously the power of Google over their customers, their competitors and their distribution partners. Let us take a look at what and why this Google update really means.

Capturing the opportunity of Google Hotel Ads

 

If there is one thing that is clear from the update, it is that Google wants to be the place where people decide what hotel they want to go to and how much money they are willing to pay for it. The search platform aggregates a huge amount of content from both organic and paid sources: reviews, business listing, prices, room descriptions, map data, photos and more.

“Google’s changes brings their search experience much closer to the core historic utility of an OTA: the ability to compare and contrast hotels and use tools like maps and reviews to refine a hotel search down to a shortlist of possible options,” says Triptease’s Chief Product Officer Alasdair Snow.

“With functionality now present and prominently positioned inside the world’s number-one search engine, you can expect a lot more of this guest activity to take place within Google itself rather than on OTA sites. This puts Google in an amazing position to make itself the central hub where all guest research and decision making will take place.

“And, as long as Google continues to allow hoteliers to won the guest relationship when participating in this experience – and we don’t see that changing! – this is a huge and timely opportunity for hoteliers that they should seize with both hands.”

If Google becomes the destination of choice for guests searching for hotels and comparing prices, hotels should be looking to make the absolute most of that by getting their direct price in the mix when they are likely to win the booking. That means bidding when you have the best price and when the guest’s previous searches indicates they’re good match for your hotel;  it also means not bidding when youre being undercut by an OTA.

 

The Hotel Search Experience

 

Most of what we can see on google.com/hotels has been available for a couple of months already. When we tested it searching from both a desktop and mobile in London, we were still presented wit the familiar top-listing ads followed by the Google Hotels panel before the organic listings. Having the panel here rather than to the side of the results certainly makes it a more interruptive experience, and the prompt to enter search dates after having made a very generic query (“Hotels in London”) is a simple yet highly effective way to retain the user (and their potential for revenue generation) instead of having them immediately click out to Booking.com, Expedia or TripAdvisor.

Entering search dates takes you into the Google Hotels Experience proper. As an interface, it is more than a little reminiscent of Airbnb’s search result listings. You can explore results via the map, by altering your preferred price, r by filtering on a variety of different criteria – including the new “Deals” marker.

 

There is endless choice – but it is easy to traverse

 

The search experience on Google Hotels is tangibly designed around getting the user to what they want in as friction-less a way as possible. We have already seen that they will adjust how results are displayed based on factors like previous search behavior, but that is pretty much expected practice of ecommerce in 2019. What is more notable is how phenomenally easy it is to narrow down your choice to two or three properties in just a few click.

 

Pricing Data Laid Bare

 

So what does that mean for hotels? Well, as with almost everything Google does, there’ll be proponents and detractors of this change.

In terms of the good stuff, the traffic that does end up looking at your property will be more highly-qualified as a result of the easy filtering process. It also means there’s room for you to compete on organic (rather than paid) grounds with other hotels and accommodation providers in your area. While you may not be able to bid higher than the Marriott next door on PPC, you can keep yourself in the same consideration set on Google Hotels with great guest reviews, high-quality photos and well-documented amenities.

What may be a red flag for some businesses though is the ‘Deals’ tag and how it can be used to narrow down results. We’ve already seen how tightly it can constrain the set of properties under consideration. It looks like Google is calculating these ‘deals’ based on a combination of historic pricing data for each hotel and a market comparison of other hotels in the location, both of which it is turning outward for the user to see.

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