As part of our year-in-review coverage, HotelNewsNow.com from 21-30 December will revisit and update the most-read articles from the site's most popular categories. Today's entry looks back at the 25 February article "Hoteliers on board with new Google features," which was the year's most-read article from the Sales and Marketing category.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—A significant event with potential to disrupt hotel distribution strategies occurred during 2011 when Google announced its entrance into the online travel space.
Before it even broached hotel distribution, Google in April closed a deal to acquire ITA Software, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company that specializes in organizing airline data. The idea was to offer users who search “flights to somewhere sunny for under $500 in May” not just a set of links but also flight times, fares and a link to sites where they could actually buy tickets, according to Google executives.
In September, Google rolled out Flight Search, which allows users to see a simple list of relevant flights, explore different dates and destinations and then book through its airline supplier partners.
In the meantime, Google also rolled out a second component to its travel offerings: Hotel Finder. Hotel Finder allows users to choose a city and draw a shape around the area where they want to stay. Then, users can compare hotels, rates and book either directly with the hotel or through a partner intermediary site. The Hotel Finder experiment went live in late July and, initially, rates and availability were being supplied by online travel agents. Today, several of the major chains are supplying availability to Google, executives said.
For example, a search for “New York hotels” in Hotel Finder shows a list of hotels in the heart of the Big Apple but with varying results. Under the “book” button for the Best Western Plus Hospitality House, Bestwestern.com appears at the top of the list with a rate of US$149 (at least US$40 less than any OTA listed) with Best Western’s owner site hospitalityhouseny.com listed, as well. The Aloft Harlem, however, only lists rates through OTAs; a link for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (Aloft’s parent company) is nonexistent, and the hotel’s direct site appears at the bottom of the list with no rate attached.
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“We're at an early stage with our Flight Search feature and our Hotel Finder experiment,” said Sean Carlson, manager of global communications and public affairs at Google. “In terms of the bigger picture, when people come to Google looking for travel information, our goal is to show them the most relevant results as quickly as possible.”
Since late summer, Google has been testing different placement of different forms of the Hotel Finder tool, including comparison ads that appear atop search results and push hotel websites lower. Clicking on the Hotel Finder comparison ad leads the searcher to the full version of Hotel Finder.
Carlson said, “Google Hotel Finder is an experiment aimed at helping users easily book hotel rooms. Just as our comparison ads have been helping consumers for years to compare financial offers for credit cards and mortgages, we’ve also been testing comparison ads for Hotel Finder since last summer. As with all experiments, we continue to monitor feedback closely to ensure that we're serving our users well.”
At least one OTA is concerned over Google’s entrance into the online travel space and how the search-giant’s cost-per-click prices will grow. Expedia Worldwide’s President Scott Durchslag suggested the hotel industry ban together with OTAs such as Expedia to remain relevant.
“If we’re all bidding against each other with totally narrow focus on each of our little pieces of the chain, A) we drop the ball with the end consumer, which is a big wide opening for disruptors, and B) we’re not doing ourselves justice,” Durchslag said.