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Google adds new level of rate transparency
April 1 2010

Google is testing a new technology that allows users of its Google Maps feature to see rates in real time.

By Christine Blank
HNN contributor
cblankwriter@yahoo.com

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The latest advancement in local search could bring new business to hoteliers.

Google is working with select hotels on a pilot project to include hotel rates in Google Maps’ searches. So when a user searches for a hotel on Google Maps, they can enter the dates they plan to stay and see real-time room rates. Users can also click on the rate to see a list of advertisers—third-party travel providers—who have provided pricing information for that hotel.

So far, the test includes a “limited number of advertisers” and is visible only to a “small portion of users,” according to a Google Maps blog.

“We’ll evaluate the usefulness and effectiveness of this new feature, based on both data and feedback, and hope to make it available to more users and offer prices from more partners over time,” the blog reads.

It is unclear how long the Google Maps’ hotel rate test will last and when it will be expanded. “We don’t have a timeline for ending or expanding the experiment at this time,” Google spokeswoman Elaine Filadelfo said.

In a random test example, Google Maps’ blogs displays nightly room rates from third-party travel companies, along with several New York hotels. Those hotels included the Pennsylvania Hotel, Gramercy Park Hotel, Millennium Hotel New York, and Embassy Suites New York.

“It is tied to SEO (search engine optimization). If you are performing well with Google Maps, they are adding on additional features,” said Jim Zito, VP, interactive marketing, for Morgans Hotel Group in New York.

Some Morgans hotels are involved in the test by default, Zito said, because of their performance on Google Maps.

Zito said that as he understands the test, a small percentage of Google Maps’ searchers are able to see the lowest starting rate next to the hotel listing, and click through to a sponsoring third party travel company.

“It is too early to tell (how it is performing) because we can’t differentiate the traffic from those searches,” Zito said. And Zito has not been able to try the hotel rates tool because it is available to a small portion of users.

However, hoteliers that are not currently involved in the test are looking forward to using the Maps’ hotel rates service in the future.

     

David Doucette
executive director, Internet marketing
Fairmont Hotels and Resorts

“Google Maps is a very useful way to get exposure for our hotels and to drive traffic to Fairmont.com,” said David Doucette, executive director, Internet marketing, for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts in Toronto. “We have contacted our representatives with the Google Travel team and expressed interest in getting involved.”

Joie de Vivre Hotels in San Francisco, which typically adopts new online marketing tools early, also wants to get involved in the new service.

“I could see how the value of including hotel listings would make it even easier for the destination hotel shopper to find where they want to go in just one stop,” said Ann Nadeau, corporate director of marketing at JDV Hotels. “The addition of hotel listings met with the familiarity of Google Maps, (could make Google Maps) the first stop on the journey to find your hotel.”
 
Marketing executives with Highgate Holdings, of Irving, Texas, are also closely watching the hotel rates test. “I do think including rates on Google Maps is an interesting feature and could indeed result in increased guest room bookings,” said Victoria Grodzki, area director of marketing for Highgate Holdings’ New York office.

However, the new tool may not be useful to every hotel company. “It is not a priority for us at this point,” said Barry Goldstein, chief revenue officer and chief information officer for Dolce Hotels and Resorts in Montvale, New Jersey. For most of Dolce’s guests, Google Maps is a complementary tool they may use once they have chosen where to go, not where they originally find hotels, he said.

“Our properties are in secondary cities, not in city centers, so we tend to have people looking for driving directions, rather than mapping directions,” Goldstein said.

Still, Dolce has found a great way to use Google Maps for internal sales. “We are in the early stages of using things like Google Maps to really look at where our customers’ offices are, relative to our hotels,” Goldstein said. With that information, Dolce can book group business by letting companies now how convenient it is to schedule meetings near their offices.

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