In only a few short years Google has become a major player in the travel industry. Its influence extends beyond simply searching for hotels or airline flights. It now appears Google's goal is to be the online choice for booking all travel arrangements – all in one place.
Google Hotel Search
Those of you who’ve been working in hospitality for a while have seen many iterations of what Google has called “Hotel Search.” There have been listings and carousels showing hotel choices for destinations where searchers are looking. The most recent iteration was a mobile version that allows the searcher to filter by location, travel dates, number of guests, budget, and preferred amenities. A desktop version was added in October 2018. It makes the process of finding a hotel in a particular location easy for consumers but what happens after search results are narrowed down can have an impact on a hotel’s direct bookings.
Google provides several ways to book a hotel using enticing photos, hotel information tabs, reviews, discount offers, and competitor rates. With all of these features, it can be easy to miss the small “Website” button that points to the hotel website for direct booking. That’s the biggest issue: Google is keeping all of that website traffic of searching and booking on Google. The result is decreased traffic to those information pages on hotel websites. The competition is fierce and to complicate matters Google Hotel Search added vacation rental properties into the mix last March.
What is Google Travel?
In May, Google revealed its streamlined trip-planning platform, Google Travel, which brings Google Flights, Google Hotels and other tools under one roof. In a May 14 blog post, Richard Holden, Google’s VP of Product Management for Travel, discussed the complexity of travel planning tools and the amount of information a person has to sift through when deciding where to go, where to stay, and what flight to take that can be time consuming and overwhelming. According to Holden, that’s the reason Google is simplifying the way it helps travelers plan trips across all of their devices. For travelers who regularly use multiple Google products – Google Search, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps and so on – this platform will keep all of their trip research and past itineraries in one place.
He says "Our goal is to simplify trip planning by helping you quickly find the most useful information and pick up where you left off on any device. We'll continue to make planning and taking trips easier with Google Maps, Google Search and google.com/travel - so you can get out and enjoy the world." This will change how guests make their decisions when traveling and, with Google’s planned enhancements in the future, it will also dictate how and where guests will be booking their reservations.
Key Features of Google.com/Travel
Let’s dig deeper into the key features outlined in Google’s announcement in May. You can either go directly to google.com/travel or do a regular Google search for something specific like “hotels in Honolulu” or a particular destination like “Paris” to find travel information from a variety of sources, all in one place.
Trip Timeline: In February of last year, Google started adding upcoming trip reservations and details for hotels & flight into a "trip timeline" for users when they are signed into their Google account and when they receive a confirmation in their Gmail. With the new google.com/travel, travelers can now make edits directly on their Trips timeline, and manually add new reservations as well. We all know that the weather is an important consideration and a key part of trip planning. Google users can now see the weather for any upcoming or potential trips at google.com/travel—so they can pack accordingly.
Consolidates Research: It often takes days or weeks to plan a trip. As plans are being made across that span of time, Google will keep track of a person’s trip research. This feature allows individuals to pick-up where they left off when planning at a later time. Recent searches, saved places and flights they’re tracking are added automatically to their Trips when signed into their Google Account. There are plans to also add any hotels that have been viewed while searching.
Maps Enhancements: Google is doing more to highlight things to do, restaurants and more with Google Maps. For convenience, it will highlight restaurants in the area to help travelers get the lay of the land by pointing out popular neighborhoods nearby and what they’re known for. It has also added a new Explore tab at the bottom of the Maps screen for travelers to get ideas of what to do in the area. This is especially useful for travelers exploring a new city.
Personalization: Based on users’ past searches, Google will send personalized recommendations. For example, a vacation package featured in Google Hotels shows a stay at an XYZ Hotel in New York City on August 13-18 for two people paired with an ABC Airlines flight from LA Airport that is available for $1,325. Google recommends this package since the components of this travel if booked separately would cost $1,830. Looking ahead, Google will be enhancing with "things to do" at the travel destination including events that might be happening during their time at that destination or places of interest based on users’ profile.
Hotel Review Channels Landscape
Since looking at reviews is a key part of a consumer’s travel planning and they are prominently included in the Google Travel platform, we looked at how Google is ranking against other review channels.
According to the 2018 Review Trackers Online Reviews survey, Google is now the review site of choice. 63.6% of consumers say they are likely to check reviews on Google before visiting a business — more than any other review site.
According to Review Trackers, Google is quickly becoming a major force in online reviews. In only a few years, Google has surpassed Yelp in reviews, it acquired and sold the Zagat restaurant review site, and ultimately shifted its focus from being an aggregator of reviews to hosting its own. This shift has caused Google to be very proactive in soliciting reviews from users.
Google and Facebook have shown the highest growth YOY in comparison to sites that focus primarily on reviews such as TripAdvisor. Reviews are finding a bigger home on social media (Facebook) and search (Google) than they have on review-only sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. This shows that the influence of reviews is transferring to the two most popular websites in the world. For hoteliers, this means that it will be nearly impossible for potential travelers to do any research about a hotel without immediately running into reviews.
This shift also increases a consumer’s access to reviews. Almost everyone has a Facebook or Google account and is always logged into these accounts. They don’t have to log in to a new site or take any other steps to leave a review. Making that process easier equals more reviews.
The takeaway for your hotel: Since close to two-thirds of consumers are saying they’re most likely to check Google reviews, make sure you’ve claimed your Google My Business listing and are actively watching those reviews. With the shift of more reviews to Facebook, keep your eye on Facebook Recommendations as well.
For more information see below, or download our Infographic on Google Travel here.
For more information on this topic, watch our webinar What Google Travel Means for Your Hotel Bookings.