A recent Google Travel study shared with the company’s Hotel Finder partners seems to be pointing to Google getting much more involved in travel bookings going forward, and the need to make the booking path more efficient.
The study, conducted in cooperation with Evercore, an independent investment baking advisory firm founded in 1996, offers greater detail on the nature of Google’s travel intentions in the future. Intentions that Evercore believes stand to undermine the keyword bidding advantage of many of its best customers.
Two Big Moves
Limited Offers, an initiative that was launched this summer, enables hoteliers to work around rate parity provisions and to contract with wholesalers to offer limited-time discounts off published rates on Google to fill rooms. This undermines the published and opaque rates found on sites like Expedia, Hotwire, Booking.com, Priceline Express Deals, and TripAdvisor.
However, it is the second initiative in the works at Google that most industry experts believe has the potential to be the “most disruptive travel initiative by Google to date” is the captive demand platform.
The captive demand platform would integrate brands’ loyalty and reward program information into a traveler’s logged-in Google Hotel Finder search experience. Google would have the ability to leverage properties such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Wallet, and Google Now “to integrate offers directly received, such as memberships and loyalty programs, into its logged-in travel search experience,” according to the Evercore report.
A More Efficient Booking Path
A more efficient booking path has become a clear need for travelers according to new data presented in the Evercore Report. Google cited that travelers spend an average of 55 minutes to book a hotel and flight, visit 17 websites, and click four different search ads per travel search, with 90% of these travelers conducting the booking process over multiple screens (i.e. smartphones, tablets, “phablets”).
Properties attempting to calculate their ROI on online marketing efforts are having a difficult time tracking exactly where their traffic is coming from because it is difficult to track across channels. Unless a user is logged in, you likely will not be able to track a traveler’s route from smartphone, to computer, and finishing with a booking made on a tablet.
A week after Google announced their major jump into the travel space with Hotel Finder, I noted that they would be alienating their main advertisers: OTAs. These companies spent more than $2 billion Google advertising in 2013, and that number is only expected to grow going forward. The ultimate question remains: Is it going to make a difference?
During a conference call earlier this year, Google said its travel efforts were meant to provide “more and more detailed information when people do searches” for hotel bookings for airfare tickets. The most recent Evercore report seems to indicate that informed searches are not the only thing for which the internet giant is looking.
The ultimate goal for Google in this situation seems to be quite clear: they see the potential within the travel industry, and they do not wish to remain a complementary resource. Like ResortsandLodges.com in the vacation rental sector, Google has pivoted from just being a search directory to being a one-stop marketplace for researching, planning, and booking for hotels.
I do not think Google is ready to attack the vacation rental sector of the travel space yet, but that does not mean that other notable travel names (Expedia, Priceline Group, TripAdvisor) are not ready to make the same plunge. Expedia has already begun the process of incorporating HomeAway’s vacation rental inventory into their search results.