We cover Google a lot on our blog, mostly because we have been watching its meteoric rise in travel and know that with its rich coffers, innovative culture and role in hotel discovery, its position in hospitality will only continue to grow.
In fact, in last year’s Reputation Benchmark Report, we shared that Google reviews accounted for 70% of the net growth across all review sites last year, indicating that while other review sites were beginning to slow, Google was picking up steam. This year’s Reputation Benchmark Report, coming next month, will show that in 2018, Google became the largest hotel review aggregator with 36% of 2018’s review volume. It also grew 75% over last year while many of the other OTAs saw their growth slow.
Review volume is only one indication that Google is becoming a force in travel. Their constantly evolving travel product is another. On November 5th we published a blog article about their evolving hotel offering and the importance of Google Hotel Ads for hoteliers looking to capitalize on bookings initiated with Google. We noted that Google Hotel Ads allow hotels to effectively compete with OTAs and capture bookings by appearing in search results ahead of OTAs.
Recent changes show that the company is getting more serious about giving OTAs a run for their money with a meta-search and booking tool, which promises to grow to be a one-stop shop for travel. Here’s how it works: After entering a destination city, you are presented with hotel ‘tiles’ (on desktop) and the now-common map of the city with hotel prices. Google will even tell you if you’re getting a deal based on their historical rate data. You can also filter by rating, amenity or deal to ensure you find the best hotel for your needs.
When you click on a hotel, there is a prominent ‘book now’ button but also lots of options to get more information about the hotel, including reviews from Google and other aggregators, prices, photos posted both by the hotel and by visitors, location information and general information. Hoteliers will also appreciate that Google makes it easy to call or visit the hotel’s website directly with prominent links. This stands in stark contrast to OTAs, which don’t provide hotel contact information and work to keep people from leaving the site.
Also new, as Skift notes, is the ability to book right on Google. “When the user selects one of the online travel agencies or other metasearch advertisers, the traveler navigates to the third-party site for booking. However, there is often an option to book right on Google for Travelocity or Agoda, for example.” Being able to book without leaving Google is a significant change and signal that it wants a larger piece of the booking pie.
While the tab was not available to me when I wrote this article, other users see a Google flights tab, indicating that Google, like Airbnb, is looking to capitalize on the whole trip, not just the hotel or the flight. The idea is that once you book your hotel, you can find the best flight and sort by preference, such as airline, stops, price, and more. The process works in reverse, too. If you start by booking a flight, you can follow the same process to book a hotel.
As others have noted, these changes indicate that Google is looking to play a central role in trip planning and booking, but is being careful to treat hotels respectfully in the process. While Google Hotel Ads will likely become a necessary and growing part of hoteliers’ budgets in order to capitalize on bookings that begin with Google, the search-giant is proving to be a good partner by surfacing hotel generated content and allowing visitors to easily visit the hotels’ website.
As always, we advise hotels to pay attention to the reviews and content that are being surfaced by Google. Protecting your reputation is as critical as ever for driving a booking. You don’t want to lose a booking to an OTA on Google, but you really don’t want to lose a booking to a competitor. Google’s continuing expansion into the hotel industry should be on the mind of every hotelier. We advise keeping your eyes on this channel as it continues to grow.
And, of course, ensure that your past guests are coming back, without exploring other hotel options, by staying top of mind with relevant and well-timed offers using Revinate Marketing. When you treat your guests well and understand their needs and preferences, they will come back time and time again.