Alas! Is that the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel we see?
Exciting hospitality news: Google changes the game and makes the travel search listings for hotels, online travel agencies, and metasearch brands free. This means that when someone is now doing research for accommodation in the mega search engine, the google travel hotel listings that appear will populate room rates in its boxed pricing module for individual properties.
This means a number of different things for properties, third parties, and adjacent industries like hotel tech providers. Continue reading as we discuss the change, it’s impact and benefits on the industry, and how to get your hotel listed and take advantage of this initiative.
What is the new Google Travel Hotel Search?
Previously when you would search for a hotel or any property type in Google’s engine, The Google travel hotel search would populate a list of booking options for each property, with the price and a link to book via the channel website. As a property, you would have to pay to appear on the list and hotels were forced to pay for ads to compete directly against their own listings on third party OTA sites. It was a competitive ‘pay to play’ type of set up.
Now with the recent change, the google travel hotel search now let’s hotels list their own website for free. The property’s direct booking link is now displayed alongside the other competitor prices and links with an “official site” label that instills trust in the guest.
It now looks like this:
The free booking links are displayed similarly to the paid booking links. The difference is that hotel ads are paid links and are ranked according to Google’s ad auction. The free ads are unpaid and ranked according to their utility to users. The ranking for free hotel listings use a variety of signals to determine which links are best to show to users. The four major things Google considers are:
- Consumer preference
- Landing page experience
- Value offered to the users
- Historical accuracy of the prices provided to Google
Google also clarifies that any commercial relationship they have with the free booking link provider will have no effect on their free booking link ranking, nor can anyone else pay for a higher ranking.
What does this mean for hotels and the industry?
Otas & Ads
Richard Holden, VP of Product Management, Travel at Google explains: “This will be a big boon to users coming out of the pandemic who are eager to travel again. This is also an opportunity for us to show that we have a full range of pricing.” This change comes in light of how the world pandemic has significantly decreased travel advertising. It comes as no surprise that the timing is at the tail end of the pandemic as different parts of the world are recovering from COVID-19 at different times. Momentum is building and deferred demand for travel is at its tipping point.
Google has been testing the free booking links for a number of months and has received “positive user engagement”, said Holden. From the huge OTAs to small boutique hotels, Google is driving more traffic to the entire ecosystem.
The new Google travel hotel search change has been contemplated by the company for a while, with consideration to make this structural change to have a broader ecosystem of participation. The current global pandemic that has dramatically affected the hospitality industry accelerated this thinking. Holden said Google’s team tasked with travel “hadn’t been immune to the effects of the pandemic” either. The hope is that the free Google travel hotel search listings will help speed up recovery in their ad revenue.
For properties, the shift is a great relief. Having your property appear visibly doesn’t add any steps to the user journey, it ensures that you will be a part of it and boosts direct bookings, cutting down on high commissions paid to OTAs and third party booking engines. This shift has come at a crucial time as hoteliers need to make the most of each margin of every booking combined with the increased awareness of travelers on the value of a direct booking. Google cares most about it’s end user: people using the search engine. This streamlines the user experience and offers the most comprehensive booking experience. Having the direct booking channel as an option is what’s most logical and will be popular with users.
How can hospitality tech vendors benefit?
This change can also affect adjacent industries like hotel tech providers that help properties with booking and distribution. It’s giving hotels the opportunity to have more control over their booking process, which in turn, hotels will be turning to their software integration partners to help optimize the process.
In the example of Mews PMS, they can connect with Google through an API so that it pulls through live availability data in the Google travel hotel search. This offers transparency in the latest and most competitive rates so guests can accurately make decisions.
This change has definitely come at an opportune time as we’ve seen the tough year hospitality has had. As the industry continues to recover, this is a greatly welcomed opportunity for hoteliers to utilize to capitalize on the revenge travel wave to come.