Google Maps adds hotel search and pricing, panic and confusion assured
Announced via the Earth and Maps Blog and currently limited to just a few users, Google says the tools will allow people to enter check-in dates for a stay in a city and the number of nights.
Results are plotted on the map but the interesting part comes in the text results on the left-hand side.
Each listed hotel also has a drop-down displaying prices supplied from existing PPC ads for that hotel in the system.
Google, probably expecting all hell to break loose amongst hotels and OTAs who have worked tirelessly to SEO their hotel listings, got in early with this bit of reassurance:
“This new feature will not change the way that hotels are ranked in Google Maps. Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, along with geographic distance (where indicated) and other factors, regardless of whether there is an associated price.”
But the organic results aspect of this will not exclusively be what worries hotel chains and OTAs or, indeed, affiliates and content sites – it will be how such new search functionality will change the behaviour of PPC clients.
The experiment is currently only being run with a handful of advertisers (lucky them?), but imagine how this might effect the wider hotel bidding process if and when it is rolled out fully.
Google hints at what it is trying to do, at least from a consumer perspective:
“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.”
“Efficiency of trip-planning” is the key phrase here. Faced with very visible options to choose to book direct with the hotel or through an online travel agency, for example, what will have to be the price difference by the OTA to ensure it captures that booking?
Some might suggest OTAs will have to provide quite a compelling reason to add another layer in the minds of the consumer so that they book with them – and will it be solely price-led or is loyalty enough?
Alternatively this move could actually benefit those that have clever bid management software in place to create that level of efficiency and complexity within their own pricing and yield systems.
“This first and foremost should signal to everyone that Google is willing to change their model and risk their existing revenue stream from travel distributors in order to provide a better user experience for customers.
“I do think the leading OTAs, at least the ones who can provide that displayed price, will do well as we all have pricing feeds that can support this.”
On the media agency side, Andrew Girdwood, head of search at BigMouthMedia, says such a move will also put pressure on inventory management:
“If you are going to attempt to show prices/room rates in a creative [way] then you really need to make sure they’re accurate. You really need to make sure you’ve rooms, at that price, available at that hotel otherwise you’ll suffer from a costly bounce rate.”
But while the emphasis on the one hand is about efficient bid management, Girdwood warns against over-indulgence and how Google likes to throw “dangerous curve balls” into the mix.
“Are your keywords doing well/badly because of your bidding strategy or because Google’s putting your prices alongside properties in Google Maps? That’s a good question to ask as, today, some travel brands with a significant budget will have no idea.”
Interestingly, Josephs suggests the most likely sector to be affected by the move is metasearch.
Google, in some respects, is pretty much doing the meta element for the consumer on-site, albeit via PPC ads rather than XML feeds direct from a hotel.
Kevin May is editor and a co-founder of Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution for nearly four years and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has also worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology and a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism.