REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As Google continues to push its way into the online travel space, hoteliers are finding more ways their online presence is being affected.
The newest challenge for hoteliers as it relates to Google Travel is understanding how a hotel’s presence on Google+ will affect its results, reputation and revenue. A new component within Google+ Local is business pages, and sources strongly encourage hoteliers to “claim” their Google+ Local business page as soon as possible.
“All hotels should check their Google+ Local page for their business,” said Craig Wingate, chairman and CEO of Woodcrick Ventures, a company specializing in identifying, leveraging and commercializing technology and intellectual property. “You want to make sure you are the master claim for that location.”
For example, if a hotel has a restaurant inside, the restaurant could own the master claim. It’s more beneficial for the hotel to own that claim, Wingate said.
Meanwhile, the reach of Google+ is expanding rapidly. Most importantly for hoteliers, Google+ Local business listings are beginning to appear within organic search results and are accompanied by rates and user-generated reviews. Hoteliers should ensure what appears on those pages is accurate and updated regularly.
“For logged-in users, Google+ is the social spine that connects many different Google products,” Google spokeswoman Andrea Faville said. “As a few examples, when searching on Google.com, in maps or Google+, users can now see reviews for restaurants, museums or hotels that were recommended by their Google connections. Or, businesses can connect their Google+ pages to their existing AdWords campaigns through social extensions, so that recommendations can also show on their ads.”
With Google’s purchase of Zagat in September 2011, Zagat reviews have now been folded into the content that appears on a hotel’s Google+ page. After Google purchased Frommer’s in August, sources now expect more user-generated content to begin appearing on those pages as well as within organic search results. http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/articles.aspx/8770/5-things-to-know-14-August-2012
“For now, we’ll bring Frommer’s content to Google under its own brand name. We’ll integrate it more with Zagat over time, as part of our ongoing effort to provide a beautiful, consistent experience across Google,” Faville said.
“I think it is great that Google bought Frommer’s,” said Paul Wood, VP of revenue management for Greenwood Hospitality Group. “I think it really cements Google’s commitment to moving hardcore into the travel sector.”
Wingate suggested hoteliers do a simple Google search for their property and pay close attention to the myriad ways the property is presented in the results.
Google is pulling most of the rates and availability shown on Google+ business pages, as well as other Google products, from partner online travel agencies. But by partnering with the right brand or computer reservation system, hoteliers can use those Google channels to supply rates and availability and push direct bookings.
“Right now with Google Local it’s mostly OTAs displaying rates,” said Shallana Lynn Edwards, director of emarketing for Shell Vacations Hospitality. “We’re trying to find a way to get our rates to show up there.”
|Woodcrick Ventures’ Craig Wingate displayed what he called the “anatomy of a Google hotel search,” or the various ways hotels appear within the different Google products.
Difficult to manage
However, the various Google products can be difficult to discern and working with Google to manage them can be frustrating, sources said.
“As hoteliers, we find that listings and placements often unexpectedly change and it can be very challenging to keep up with them,” Edwards said.
Shell Vacations recently hired a social-media administrator to manage the online reputation of its 24 hotels. The company has set up a Google+ page, and although engagement on it is “extremely low,” the company is participating because Edwards knows the importance to search results.
“Based on what we’ve been reading and Google’s changes with Plus, Local and Places, plus the integration with Plus into all the other applications and the use of Plus as part of the search algorithm, we’re actively participating on there,” she said. “We’re trying to keep up with all of Google’s trends so we don’t fall behind.”
Wood said adding additional parties into the marketing mix—say a brand or management company—adds additional complexity to managing Google products.
“We do deal with Google places, which is a bit challenging at times because all of our properties are branded at the moment,” he said. “So not a challenge because of Google but with the brands—they will only move as fast as the slowest corporate decisions.”
Edwards said Shell Vacations’ new social-media administrator won’t spend as much time updating Google+ as Facebook and Twitter because the activity level is low and posting to Google+ won’t drive much return. However, more people are adopting Google+, and Shell Vacations has already seen growth in activity.
Also, as more hotels begin adopting Google+ and claiming their Google+ Local business pages, the search engine is becoming more communicative with the industry, sources said.
“I definitely feel like over the years they’ve been more active in communication and more visible in the travel space. I would like to see them work more with the hoteliers directly and not just with the OTAs,” Edwards said. “The big question has always been, ‘What is Google doing with the travel space?’ We’re seeing some of the early implementation.”
Google’s Faville said Google+ page managers can respond directly to comments or delete them. In Google+ Local, business owners also can respond to reviews directly from their page.
“Our goal is to provide users with the most relevant, accurate information to help them turn intent into action,” she said. “Zagat's curated ratings and reviews, which are based on the experiences of passionate consumers, are an integral part of the Google+ Local experience.”
Hangout with Google
During a recent Google Hangout—a video chat tool within Google+—Google representatives invited social-media experts to discuss how they were best using the tools.
Lynette Young, CEO of Purple Stripe Productions, said she can talk with businesses, find out what their Google+ pain points are and offer a solution, hint or a tip right way.
“I view Google+ as one-stop shopping,” she said. “It’s got live video, amazing multimedia capabilities and allows for formatting and editing text. Now that Google+ is incorporating other Google products, I see stronger implications moving forward. You can focus your time and get a lot of benefit out of it really quickly.”
Ricky Cadden, social-media community manager at RadioShack, said the company established its presence on Google+ and immediately made sure everything was filled out properly. Then the electronics store brand asked its customers what they wanted to see on Google+ and began from there.
“They asked us not to duplicate content on different platforms,” Cadden said. “And commenting on other people’s stuff has become so important—just to show you’re here, active and not just broadcasting stuff.”