JW Marriott Chicago2
823 days ago
 

Google Hotel Finder — OTA advertisers commandeer hotel pages

UPDATE: The new Google Hotel Finder ad format is called Promoted Hotels. Online travel agencies and hotels bid for the ads and pay for them on a cost-per-click basis, similar to AdWords. Details here.

The original post follows:

An advertising experiment in Google Hotel Finder enables Google and online travel agencies to blatantly and misleadingly cash in on hotels’ intellectual property.

Google Hotel Finder is displaying hotel listings atop search results pages, labeling each as an “Ad” and then providing an online travel agency placement as the only practical booking link.

These type of advertisements may have a parallel to the days when OTAs were bidding on hotel keywords in Google and other search engines. Several major chains issued trademark standards and threatened to boycott any intermediaries who trampled on the hotels’ intellectual property.

See what happens when you search for hotels in Chicago for a June 8 stay (you may or may not be able to replicate this). Here’s a screenshot of an ad, highlighted in tan and displaying a listing for the JW Marriott in Chicago:

You’d think this is an advertisement paid for by the JW Marriott in Chicago because there is no indication to the contrary. But, you’d probably be wrong in that assumption because if you click on that ad, you’ll see that virtually the only option for booking the hotel is with Hotels.com.

You’ll see that in the following screenshot:

And, notice at right how Hotels.com has commandeered the hotel details page for JW Marrott in Google Hotel Finder.

Yes, “JW Marriott” in black lettering heads the page, but your eyes would probably first notice the bold, red box stating, “BOOK AT HOTELS.COM $309.” And, the hotel has no booking link at the top of the page.

On a side note, in another showing of a lack of transparency by Google, the base rate of $309 is shown for the hotel in bright red, and Hotels.com’s total rate of $360, including taxes and fees, is displayed, but barely noticeable.

When you click on the Hotels.com button, you’ll get a deep link to Hotels.com, where you can book the JW Marriott in Chicago.

Oh yes, there is a link to Marriott.com on the very bottom of the Google Hotel Finder hotel details page and it’s in a very small point size.

As you can see (or not see, actually) from the screenshot above, the link to Marriott.com isn’t even visible “above the fold” when the Google Hotel Finder hotel details page for the JW Marriott first opens.

And, while Hotels.com gets a deep link from Google Hotel Finder, enabling the consumer to start booking the room immediately, the Marriott.com link on Google Hotel Finder would require the consumer to restart the search on Marriott.com.

Here’s what the Marriott.com link looks like, almost hidden at the bottom of the page:

Google obviously is running a test with these OTA ads atop Google Hotel Finder search results pages as they appear and disappear sporadically.

I also found a Google Hotel Finder ad for the Parc 55 Wyndham in San Francisco leading to an Expedia link, and a San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina ad pointing to Hotels.com.

So what’s up with these ads?

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Did the hotels pay for these ads pointing to online travel agencies as the overwhelmingly predominant booking option? Highly doubtful.

Are they paid ads from the OTAs, which are brazenly hijacking the intellectual property of the hotels? That’s a possible scenario.

Did Google place these ads for the OTAs on an unpaid basis merely to toy with how they will work? Possibly.

Hotels may already be angry at OTAs, sites such as TripAdvisor and Google for making money off their intellectual property, and this Google experiment will do nothing to soothe their angst.

Interestingly, Google is also using these type of ads on behalf of hotels.

Here’s one such ad for the InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco:

There is nothing misleading about the above Google Hotel Finder ad, as it points right to the hotel website, as shown here:

And, it’s good to see hotels themselves finally getting some advertising real estate for direct bookings in Google Hotel Finder.

Meanwhile, Google has also altered the way it displays its Hotel Price Ads when the hotel listings in Google Hotel Finder at the left side of the page are organic.

The Google Hotel Finder hotel details page previously just had a Book button and didn’t preference one OTA over another on the pages:

Previously, once you clicked the Book button, you saw OTA links and the hotel website, as well, like this:

But, all that has changed as Google Hotel Finder is now preferencing one OTA over the others by putting one’s ad atop the hotel details page in a bright red box like the following example for the Amalfi Hotel Chicago:

The Google Hotel Finder listing for the Amalfi Hotel Chicago is not labeled an ad and EasyToBook.com gets the booking juice at the top of the hotel details page at right.

Unlike when the Google Hotel Finder top result is an ad on the left side of the pages, as discussed above, EasyToBook.com in this organic result for the Amalfi Hotel Chicago gets preference over the other OTAs, but not exclusivity.

However, you would have to click the More button to see the other OTA links, as shown here:

EasyToBook apparently is paying for this priority placement as Google Hotel Finder states on the hotel details page: “Booking links sponsored.”

In typical Google style, these advertising modes may be experimental and subject to change.

It’s all about monetization — not necessarily the user experience — and it looks like the hotels themselves, in large measure, are getting taken advantage of.

 
 
Dennis Schaal

About the Writer :: Dennis Schaal

Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.

 

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  1. Imran Khan

    Thanks for exposing the secrets ways of charging more prices

     
  2. Alex Frank

    google is getting very tricky. because it does not allow hotel owners to directly pay for ads on google hotel finder. And when somebody does want to advertise directly it has a terrible link to google places but still no explanation, meaning they have created a monopoly with booking.com , expedia, and hotels.com , but not allowing smaller companies like http://www.onlyrooms.com or wotif.com to get listed

     
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  15. Terry Jackson

    Would small independent hotels and B&Bs be better advised now to concentrate their resources on Google+ Local?

     
    • Helina

      Would you like to share some hints how hotel can benefit from Google + Local?

       
      • Terry Jackson

        Google+ Places is the result last week of Google integrating Google+ with Google Places and on first appraisal it looks promising for independents.

         
        • Terry Jackson

          Sorry, I meant to say Google+ Local is the result last week of Google integrating Google+ with Google Places…

           
      • Jenny Mendoza

        Some of the benefits are:
        - its Free
        - you’ll have control over your description, hotel name, address, website address, phone #
        - If you work with VFM Leonardo to distribute images of your properties Google will pull them from there, but if not, you can submit the pictures you’d like on your Google+ Local page or they can index them from your website once they have the correct website address and I believe these will get mentioned as “photo provided by owner”
        - Reviews – ask your hotel guests to review your hotel on Google+ Local after their stay (reviews are now powered by Zagat)
        - Being on Google+ Local should help your hotel get listed on Google Hotel Finder if you are not already listed

        Hope this helps!

         
  16. Helina

    Thank you all for a good comments.
    Does anybody know how to update in Google Hotel Finder the information?
    For example if the hotel brand website address is old or update the pcitures and description ?

     
    • Jenny Mendoza

      Helina,
      Google gets the information on your hotels from different sources, but relies heavily on what was called Google Places, which is now Google+ Local. If you haven’t built a place page for your hotel in the past then look in Google+ Local for your hotel/s and if found, on right hand side of your listing you should see something that asks if you manage this property and says you can claim that page if you are the owner. Then Google will go through steps to make sure you are the owner like asking you to put a code on your site so they can check to make sure you have FTP access to the hotel’s website etc. You should then update all of your information in Google+ Local, and eventually your new info will be indexed and will show throughout Google as the updated data. This could take several weeks from start to finish so I would start today if possible.

      Below I’ve also pasted more information depending upon what needs updating for you – this is from Google’s Hotelier FAQ’s:

      Hotel Finder includes regularly updated photos from the owner and from VFM Leonardo. To update or add more owner photos to a hotel, navigate to the Places account for the hotel and click Edit next to the particular listing. For VFM Leonardo photos which you believe are inaccurate or unrepresentative photos, please contact VFM Leonardo.

      Hotel Finder is displaying inaccurate information for my hotel. How do I fix it?

      Hotel Finder relies on multiple data sources to get a holistic view of hotels, but leverages Google Places information heavily. In most cases, incorrect information can be corrected by editing your Google Places page.

       
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  18. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    I now have more information on the new Google Hotel Finder ad program: It is called Promoted Hotels. More details here http://www.tnooz.com/2012/06/04/news/google-launches-adwords-like-promoted-hotels/

     
  19. Anil

    @Dennis, thanks for reporting this experiment in Google Hotel Finder(GHF). I do not quite agree with the intellectual property bit – Hotels have agreed to be seen on those OTAs – and Google is only showing those rates(no doubt a paid OTA ad). However, my point is why can’t Google offer a fair share of visibility to hotel direct rates simultaneously?

    Your IHG example is a huge chain, and I have no idea what their deal with Google is. But, there are smaller and independent hotels who would like their direct rates to be seen in competition with those OTA ads. Google is a business, so let them make money off those ads – but they *must* show hotel direct rates on par with those OTA ads.

     
    • wei

      ” they *must* show hotel direct rates on par with those OTA ads.” this is easier said than done, showing rates is easy, but get rates is not easy for both hotel and Google, and both needs spend money to develop and manage the connection.

       
      • Anil

        If they can get rates from IHG, surely it can work for independent hotels too? It’s “not easy” due to lack of transparent information which can be helpful.

        Why not Google lay down the specs required to enable this option for all interested hotels? I’m not aware if they have released such guidelines yet.

         
        • wei

          In fact, Google already have a spec for all hotels. The problem, again, is easier said than done. Implementation of connectivity for large chain, which my company have been doing, is not easy, if you want achieve high accuracy of data. It is even more difficult for small independent hotels, which are less technical savvy and less resource. Google does allow independent hotels to connect through a third party CRS, switch or technology providers, which my employer is one of them.

           
          • Anil

            That’s interesting, would you mind sharing the URL where Google has published this?

             
          • shayne alvares

            I agree with Anil and would also like to know where Google has released these specs or guidelines as I have several hotels which would benefit from this.

             
          • wei

            So far, Google only release the spec to customers and partners, but maybe they will expand to public in future. I think they are still testing this for chains and CRS providers.

             
  20. Gary Halpin

    I note some of the bigger Hotel chains are now looking at starting their own co-operative sites meaning they can by pass the main aggregators and focus on their own commisions thus avoiding the likes of hotels.com

    It will be interesting to see how effective and successful they are.

    The point you make is a good on tough and it would be interesting to see if hotels.com have permission from individual hotels to use thier branding to sell their own product, somehow I doubt it but if the hotels sales are suffering they might happily turn a blind eye to hotels.com dubious practises to secure bookings???

     
    • Dennis Schaal

      Dennis Schaal

      Gary: I’m awaiting comments from Google, Expedia/Hotels.com and a couple of hotels chains about Google’s latest practices in Google Hotel Finder. (If any other chains want to chime in, please contact me or comment below.)

      I’m sure chains feel they have to use the Expedia’s and Hotels.com’s of the world.

      But, I will be very surprised if they go along with Google Hotel Finder’s latest bent.

       
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  22. Bhavin Patel

    Firstly, great article pointing out Google experimenting in this space. As you said toward the end, google is solely focused on monetizing from the abnormal increase of OTA expenditure on google advertising. As the major OTAs have monetized from Hoteliers in the recent years, i see the same happening to the big OTAs. Google will seek billions more from big OTAs as they each fight to gain a piece of the pie.

    Google is smart. OTAs business model, which in my opinion is completely screwed up, is going to be taken advantage of by Google. Thomas has a point as Hoteliers need OTAs to fill their rooms today. Increasing number of booking are coming from online channels each year, and OTAs have built significant brand strength and continue to do so.

    Losers at the end of the day are Hoteliers, Will they ever do anything? I am tired of people saying there cant be anything done as OTAs spend billions on advertising. Hoteliers have to take the initiative to stop providing the last minute deals, promotions, flash sales, etc to OTAs and not on their own websites. I own a economy hotel here in Dallas, Texas, and It is amazing to see some guest book a room on an OTA right before they step into the lobby! It is the brand identity that the Hoteliers have allowed the big OTAs to achieve as the result of the recession.

     
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  25. brian harniman (@bharniman)

    Did a search for San Francisco hotels and saw the Hotel Finder Experiment. The first hotel to come back in the return was the Fairmont SF. Booking showed a $207 rate for June 10-11. Then I clicked the Fairmont link at the bottom of the stack. The room rate showing on their home site was $399 per day… there’s a lot of work to be done before the hotels can take share back from the OTAs – and it starts with understanding the true cost of distribution and marketing.

     
    • Dennis Schaal

      Dennis Schaal

      Brian: For the Fairmont on those dates, Google Hotel Finder pointed me to hotels.com, which had a $290 total rate for a non-refundable room. The Fairmont link on Google Hotel Finder brought me to Fairmont for a total rate on a refundable reservation for $322.

      What was your point about the true cost of distribution and marketing?

       
  26. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    Thomas: Like it or not — and they largely don’t — the major chains have little choice but to work with the big aggregators. If they could drop out, they would, but they can’t.

     
  27. thomas lackner

    First, let me preface this by saying I am very concerned about Google entering the more deep areas of ecommerce, like this.

    However, I take issue with the tone of your post. If the hotels don’t want these OTAs selling their inventory, they should withdraw from their relationships with the big aggregators like Expedia. What is their “intellectual property” here? The trademark on their name? They’ve given up rights to use that by others when they entered the resale relationship.

    If these hotels would cut off the OTAs their rooms would be empty and their front desk staff could spend a lot more time napping.

     
    • wei

      Agree with you. I don’t understand the IP issues here. One thing hotel could do, is to send their own price feed to Google. Some already have done that, like IHG, Hilton and Marriott. The reason that some time you don’t see brand.com’s price is either because hotel didn’t send their own price, or they didn’t bid for the top 4 positions on Google.

       
      • Helina

        Hello Wei,

        Could you please explane how hotel can send own websote price with link to be presented in Google hotels search? Among our clients there are quite a lot of independent hotels who put a lot of effort to increase bookings from their own website, they have also nice websites, online booking engine and rate parity in place.
        Some examples – http://www.metrohotel.se; http://www.meraspahotel.pl; http://www.parkhotel.ee; http://www.mycityhotel.ee and lot of more.
        Thank you in advance
        Helina from eDream Hotels

         
        • Craig Wingate

          Our company is providing independent and small-midsize chains worldwide the opportunity to push their rates and availability to Google Hotel Finder and other new Google hotels products, generating our clients immediate and significant savings through direct bookings with no OTA or GDS commissions or fees. We can easily and cost-effectively help you and your clients with the direct connection they require to compete on equal footing with the OTAs. The following link goes to a 2-minute video that shows hotels how to start receiving benefit immediately.

          http://woodcrickventures.com/seekda/google-hotel-price-ads-program-let-get-your-hotel-connected/

           
      • Drew

        Independent hotels don’t have the option right now to send their own price feed to Google, it is only available to OTAs, bigger brands like the ones your mentioned, and certain booking engines who have a deal with them. Hopefully down the line this will change to make it more fair for hotels, but at the moment independent hotels have their hands tied with this service.

         
        • Helina

          Hello again,

          Don´t you think it´s not fair by Google against independent hotels what they are doing ?
          They prefer the intermediary for original source, shoudn´t it by visa versa? Intrest of people who are seaching from Google is to get the most reliable information from original source – hotels own brand website should be the one.
          Is there any option to do something about it ?

           
          • Drew

            I completely agree that it is a little unfair toward independent hotels at the moment, but unfortunately there is nothing that can be done at the moment. I’d interested to see how this Promoted Hotels feature works that Dennis wrote about in the follow-up to this post, since that may be the only way to have your hotel appear as the sole booking link at the moment for now.

            http://www.tnooz.com/2012/06/04/news/google-launches-adwords-like-promoted-hotels/

             
          • wei

            Drew is right, at least now, Google seems to focus on big chain and CRS provider. It is pure business strategy and economics. In time, they may expand to independent hotels.

             
          • Rowan

            Helina,

            It’s not an issue of fairness, it’s an issue of resources. It’s much easier for Google to connect to a single CRS serving hundreds of hotels than hundreds of CRSs serving individual hotels.

            If this product is successful for Google, then be sure they’ll turn their attention to independents. But they need to reach economies of scale first.

             
        • Jenny Mendoza

          Google actually HAS given independent hotels the opportunity to play in this paid game and get their own hotel prices listed – including being able to bid for this top (and sometimes exclusive ad spot) called Promoted Hotels.

          As you had mentioned Drew, there are select booking engine technology providers, (including the one I work for, Woodcrick Ventures, exclusive representative of Seekda technology in the U.S.. Using seekda connect, we provide real-time rates and inventory for any hotels to post their direct rates next to the hotel owner name on Google Hotel Finder, Google Maps & Google Places. There is no need to change your current website provider or booking engine since our technology works with your current booking engine.

          Independent hotels can use technology like ours to push rates and inventory to Google and compete on equal footing with the OTA’s bidding for their hotel’s own name. Although frustrating, it does seem that Google is “experimenting” with these new Promoted Hotels ads pairing the bid amount from the OTA with the quality score of the hotel from Google and serving up what may appeal to that particular customer (personalization?…I’m guessing so, especially if you are logged in and Google knows your historical search preferences). The good news, Independent hotels aren’t being left out – its just not heavily promoted yet that this capability exists… glad to have these kinds of great articles and discussions that follow to help get the word out there!

           
 
 

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