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Google hotel finder, friend or foe?

Feb

2013

Google Hotel Finder started as an experiment launched last July in the US, the Mountain View team isn’t new to this kind of operation, you may remember the mortgage comparison ads that they created in late 2009. Google’s creation of hotel finder is likely a response to the decreasing interest in generic search for hotels in cities, see our article The Change in Hotel Search for more information about that.

Let’s try to get a better understanding of how it works:

Google Hotel Finder uses maps to locate the city (or area) where the guest wants to stay.

You insert check-in and check-out dates and the engine generates a list of available hotels you can filter by price, location and user rating.

The “View location” can also help the guest on the decision process so he has a clear idea of where he’ll stay based on the most popular areas of the city.

There is also a rate-trend-calendar, which compares the rate of the day with the rates for the full year (similar to the “flexible travel dates” for flight companies).

This is an interesting feature actually and is possible because Google checks the rates every two hours simulating bookings from 1 to 7 nights based on 1 to 4 persons occupancy for the next 60 days.

The guest can also track his top choices and add it to a shortlist to resume the search at a later time.Last but not least there are the Zagat reviews, the Google+ local score and reviews written by other Google users, together with detailed information about the hotels.

It’s actually a meta-search to all the effects and purposes, and up to here slightly different from any rate comparison site.But the really interesting feature is that Google Hotel Finder integrates the reservation box directly in the SERP, and in an extremely privileged location: just below the sponsored ads!

Page d’hôtel sur Google Hotel Finder

Page d’hôtel sur Google Hotel Finder

In this way, the box doesn’t negatively affect advertisers, but (and this is something every hotel should be very aware of) pushes further and further down the organic results, sometimes even relegated to the second page, cannibalized by PPC ads, Maps (which are organic), etc.

And if that were not enough, the box of Hotel Finder does not appear on the first page only, but also later in the SERPs.

It’s obvious that for any OTA and review-site that used to be organically in top 5 results (Expedia or TripAdvisor, for example) this SERP integration can be a big threat, and this probably added fuel to the huge interest around the hotel meta-search last year (Expedia buying the 62% Trivago, Priceline buying Kayak for almost 2 billion dollars, etc).

Of course, besides trying to buy as many meta-search sites as they can, OTAs are not just trying to counter at Google, they clearly understood the value of meta-search, see our recent article about the Rise of meta-search and fall of regular search.

However Google Hotel Finder isn’t a threat to OTAs at all, it is a new advertising channel for them as the rates shown are derived from OTAs to which the hotel is affiliated. Only a static link to the official website (and not to the hotel’s booking engine) is visible (but at least it’s totally free).

Interestingly the rates will be always shown including of taxes and fees unlike what usually happens in some countries where some sort of net rate is advertised that then get’s marked up by taxes and fees, this is an advantage for the user as well as the hotel since these taxes are sometimes arbitrarily determined to seem cheaper than other OTAs.

Now we should ask ourselves if Google Hotel Finder is an opportunity or a threat.

Well, the good news is that it’s definitively a very good opportunity for hotels, but like all opportunities they requires some effort to be fully exploited (intellectual, operational and also economical).

What is in it for you?

First of all you have (in case you haven’t already) to create a Google Plus page for your hotel (https://plus.google.com/pages/create), trying to add as much detail and information you can.

Ok, page created, but how can you add links to show my price?

In an official statement Google said that it will choose their partners only if consistent with the technical requirements and legal specific (own API, minimum number of servers for service, etc. consider that like I wrote Google will update the rates every 2 hours, so if the system gets too many “time out” you can be banned from the service, that’s why a very high level hardware is requested).

It’s clear that the vast majority of OTAs meets all these requirements, but this could not be the case of all booking engines.

Chose the right technology

Of course many will try to get integrated, but there are hundreds if not thousands of booking engines out there, so choosing the right booking engine is important – and as we’ve repeatedly said, the cost of the booking engine is secondary to it’s sales potential.

It’s likely that the hotels using more “basic” technologies will not be able to connect to Google Hotel Finder, with the risk of diminishing the direct bookings. As a note WIHP has it’s own integration with Google Hotel Finder that we have developed and certified and works with several large booking engines.

So, just be sure that your booking engine is fully connectable to Google Hotel Finder and matches all the requirements. This is the first thing to check.

If your booking engine has a connection then you can go on and allocate a budget to advertise on Hotel Finder, did we mention that it was a pay-per-click solution? The cost varies depending on how much one is willing to bid and is based on a small percentage of the potential booking value. For example a booking for 3 nights at $120 per night could cost $7.2 per click.

In conclusion

To conclude, although Google Hotel Finder will not revolutionize the way people book hotels (at least on the short term), this is another “wake up call” for the hotels and hotel marketers, which must absolutely understand the market is shifting from a “commission-based” to a “click-based” formula and hotels must invest in online advertising in order be ahead of the game.

Consider Google Hotel Finder your new alliance to increase direct booking and use all the possibilities of this application at his best.

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Simone Puorto

Senior Account Manager Southern Europe

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