Google Strikes Again – Travel Search Redefined

In a move that most marketing professionals in the travel industry already knew was coming… Google has now launched a full destination search site for hotel listings that will seriously compete with OTAs offerings and hoteliers own digital marketing campaigns.

The article titled “There’s still time to plan your perfect spring break trip,” details a series of updates including an improved version of Google Flights and the ‘nearby hotels’ feature on Google Maps with a preview of the updated ‘google.com/hotels.’

In what appears to be taking design inspiration from Airbnb, the new full version of Google’s hotel search displays a similar clean and simple map search interface to satisfy the user experience.

And speaking of user experience, when it comes to travel, people like to look for ‘deals’ and that’s one of Google’s new filtering algorithms. In addition to ‘deals’ based on historic price data, Google now offers several other ways to filter results, something that traditional online travel agencies might frown about. In fact, Google has such a large amount of content and data from organic and paid sources including business listings, descriptions, pricing, photos, reviews, maps, etc. that it can seriously undermined all major OTAs.

OTAs for their part, already know that when Google enters any type of game, they do it to win. Whether they win it or not, time will tell (Google + was not able to beat Facebook as a social media platform, yet, it did gather an enormous amount of data about its users that Google has used for other purposes). But while OTAs may have the budget and resources to play and compete with Google (Expedia and Booking Holdings spent $10.6 billion on brand advertising in 2018.) hotels on the other hand, will have a much more serious challenge keeping their guests within close range or getting them to book direct.

The New Google Search Approach

Let’s take a quick example and search for hotels in New York City. You will see a traditional search results page with some paid listings at the top followed by Google’s search window directly below. The paid listings will normally be dominated by OTAs and other metasearch engines, but the including of Google’s own search panel below is clearly an attempt to draw the visitors’ attention towards its own platform. Needless to say, if you’re an independent hotel, good luck trying to outbid either OTAs or metasearch engines for one of the top four spots.

Now, the moment you enter your travel dates on Google’s search widget, you’re automatically taken to the fully enhanced Google Hotels interface including a very clean map (a la Airbnb) displaying all hotels rates and locations within your geographic range. Now is when the user experience really takes place. You can explore results via the map, by altering your preferred price, or by filtering on a variety of different criteria – including the new ‘Deals’ filter.

Notice that at this point, metasearch auction hasn’t taken place yet. That will appear later once you -the user- start narrowing down your search and selecting specific hotels as potential locations for your next stay.

If I select the Grand Hyatt New York, now I will see the metasearch results panel. Notice that if the property is participating in the metasearch auction, the hotel’s official site will appear as one of the offerings. Now, here’s the key: if you want to have any type of positive ROI on your metasearch campaign, you MUST be listed in the top 4 results, that is, before the “View More Prices” link opens up the remaining 6-8 OTA + Metasearch options. You must win the Impression Share to be at the top 4 otherwise, you’re very much wasting your budget.

Rediscovering Google Hotel Ads

Not long ago, looking for a place to stay on Google simply meant getting to a number of organic results based on our search query placed right below a few paid ads from OTAs or the hotels themselves. Even a Google hotel booking interface was merely a pass-through link to the hotel website or an OTA via Google Hotel Ads.

As we’ve seen above, Google has now, at least unofficially, become another OTA. However, not all hope is lost in this game. That’s because, unlike all other OTAs, Google still allows hotels to own the guest relationship and have some control over the booking process. Think of it as Google trying to become the new central hub for travel decisions but also according to their mission statement, their goal is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

While Google will continue to become the search engine of choice for travelers wanting to compare prices, reviews, and guests photos while deciding on their next destination, hotel chains and especially independent hotels should focus on getting their rates in the mix when the search criteria matches their offerings. That is, bidding when they can offer the best rates and when the guest’s previous searches indicate they’re a good match for your hotel. It also means staying out of the auction (saving your budget) when you’re being undercut by an OTA and you have no chance of winning.

Metasearch is not an option. It’s a necessity. You can still use your traditional PPC campaigns for your branded terms that typically will have the lowest CPC and provide the higher ROI. But for all other destination based search queries, Google Hotel Ads or event TripAdvisor would be the best use of your digital marketing budget.

Thank you for reading. Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR)

2019-04-02T23:13:51-04:00