Google is hoping to change the way travelers book hotels. The search engine giant has been introducing new tools and products that allow users to book directly on Google and transitioning to become a platform for travel booking.
This is not new, according to travel news site Skift. Google has been developing travel tools in the last four years, and now the tech giant is starting to make them official. For example, Google Flights came out in 2011, but Google redesigned and relaunched the tool in early 2015, complete with new features.
Google also recently made it easier for users to see important hotel details such as hotel rates, locations and traveler reviews.
Google users can search for a hotel on Google and select the “book” option, this takes the user to another page – usually a third-party reservation site. But Google notes that some hotels allow booking right on Google.
There’s an attraction list at the top of the page, providing users with popular “points of interest” at the top of a search page – three in a list.
“We want to be really good in assisting the user, we want to partner with the industry for that,” Oliver Heckmann, Google’s vice president of travel, told Skift’s Dennis Schaal. “We have no ambition, no plans to become an online travel agency or an airline or a hotel or any of that.”
Should TripAdvisor and others be worried?
TripAdvisor is not afraid of “Book on Google,” as reported by Skift. Adam Medros, senior vice president of global product at TripAdvisor, told Skift that the issue they are hesitant about is the possibility of consumers being directed to Google’s travel products because of Google’s foothold on search. “Google is always going to be a competitive threat,” Medros said.
Starwood announced in January it was a partner in TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking, a space where users could book Marriott, Best Western and most major hotel chains.
The Instant Booking Option for TripAdvisor gives users the ability to book directly on TripAdvisor as opposed to third-party sites. Starwood will pay TripAdvisor a commission, “a fact that means its financials would be lower with TripAdvisor than for direct bookings on Starwood sites.”
Facebook and Yelp also key players in hospitality
Facebook is also positioning itself as a key player in the travel and hospitality industry.
Facebook’s global head of travel and education strategy (the first for Facebook) Lee McGabe, spoke with McKinsey & Company in December 2015. McGabe said, “Sites like Facebook are affecting consumer travel decisions at every stage because travel choices are heavily influenced by recommendations from other people.”
Travel decisions have always been influenced by recommendations, McGabe said.
“Now it happens in real time and at scale on digital platforms, many of which are social in nature. And, of course, seeing your friends’ vacation photos – that’s definitely something that makes people start dreaming about travel.”
Of course, Yelp lists online reviews of hotels and travel-related businesses, placing the best 10 hotels in a list for a specific city.
Managing reviews and customer feedback
Google’s move to be a bigger part of the travel industry reinforces the need to engage with customer feedback and manage online reviews, especially now that these are being integrated with the travel search experience.
“The hospitality and travel industry is evolving rapidly. Executives and organizations hoping to increase relevance in today’s extremely competitive market must commit to implementing strategies that take into account the ever-changing ways people travel,” said Brian Sparker, head of content marketing for ReviewTrackers. “If 2015 was the year the industry wondered whether or not they were managing their online reviews and reputation effectively enough, 2016 will be the year that execs fully embrace the review revolution and seek to do review management better than their competition.”