Since the news broke several months ago that Google Maps was testing hotel search and pricing and also was in talks to acquire flight-search maven ITA Software, there has been fear — and some loathing — about what it all would mean for the travel industry.
Speaking on a panel at the ATME 2010 conference in Boston June 15, Rob Torres, Google’s head of travel, sought to downplay the angst about the hotel search and pricing initiative, labeling it an “experiment.”
Torres said hotel search and pricing on Google Maps has been rolled out to just 10% of Google users.
Torres pooh-poohed the notion, saying Google is not trying to displace anyone, but merely wants to add relevancy to hotel searches.
He added that hotel search and pricing doesn’t impact hotels’ page rank.
This morning, Torres provided me with some more information about what Google sees as the value provided by hotel search and pricing on Google Maps.
“Google Maps is often one of the first stops travelers make to find and compare hotels.¬†¬†Just recently, we started experimenting with a new feature, visible to a small portion of users (about 10%), to help make that process even easier by showing specific prices for selected hotel listings. With this feature, when you search for hotels on Google Maps you’ll be able to enter the dates you plan to stay and see real prices on selected listings.
“You can click on the price to see a list of advertisers who have provided pricing information for that hotel.¬† By showing you this relevant hotel rate information directly in the Google Maps results panel we hope to make this aspect of your trip planning more speedy and efficient — so you can get where you’re going and enjoy your travel destination.
“User benefit: Users receive up to date pricing information for their search on Google Maps.¬†The prices listed do not impact the natural organic ranking of the listings on the page.¬†Users are able to customize their search by providing their check in date as well as the number of nights they plan to stay.
“Advertiser benefit: Partners are able to receive highly qualified leads from Google Maps.
“Partners do not pay for their prices to be listed and only pay when a user clicks on their price link.”
Not everyone is so sure, though, about Google’s ultimate intentions with this “trip planning” assist.
In fact, eight months before Google started playing around with hotel search and pricing, Kayak CEO Steve Hafner predicted Google would do just that¬†and concluded it would be an open question as to what Kayak’s role might be in this new travel ecosystem if Google dove into hotel search and pricing in earnest.
And, when you couple hotel search and pricing with a possible acquisition of ITA Software to enhance Google flight search and event search with Needlebase, then it’s no wonder — despite Torres’ protests to the contrary — that travel advertisers and key players are concerned.
Forrester Research analyst Henry Harteveldt, who delivered a keynote address at the ATME conference, argued that Google is taking a cautious approach to hotel search and pricing, and interpreted Torres’ remarks to mean that the rollout is limited “and not definitive.”
The scope and Google’s true intentions, however, are multimillion dollar (or euro) questions.
I’ve heard one insider say even if Google would acquire ITA Software, don’t look for Google to go full-throttle into travel metasearch.
But, there are many skeptics who believe that Google will not stuff hotel search and pricing back into the bottle.