3 Aug 2011

Google Hotel Finder - It's All About Local Content

Google’s most recent iteration of its hotel comparison product was released recently as the “experimental” Google Hotel Finder, a build out of the search engine’s Google Places feature that allows users to search for and compare hotels by region, Google reviews and price comparisons.



Story Highlights
  • As features such as Google Places and Hotel Finder become more relevant, it will be crucial for hotel owners to make sure their information, photos and videos are updated regularly, according to Max Starkov, president & CEO, Hospitality eBusiness Strategies.
  • The information on Google Hotel Finder comes from a variety of sources, according to Deanna Yick, spokesperson for Google.
  • One suggestion from Starkov: Provide a coupon on Google.
While it’s a logical evolution of Google’s work in the hotel space, there are some important considerations for hoteliers who want to stay on top of their search engine optimization and Hotel Price Ad performance. New features in the Hotel Finder experiment include photos provided by VFM Leonardo hotel rate and availability even if it doesn't have Hotel Price Ads.

As features such as Google Places and Google Hotel Finder become more relevant, it will be crucial for hotel owners to make sure their information, photos and videos are updated regularly, according to Max Starkov, president & CEO, Hospitality eBusiness Strategies.

By itself Google Places has nothing to do specifically with the hospitality industry, Starkov noted. “It has to do with Google’s strategic intent to create the deepest, most relevant information of local content because of mobile,” he said. “It’s all about local content.”

Robert Cole, founder of RockCheetah, a travel marketing and distribution consultancy, said the Google Hotel Finder experiment brings together a few new features:
1. Polygon search area: Instead of a central point with a radius, users can define a search area. There is also a “spotlight” on popular tourist areas on the map display.
2. A shortlist collection option: Users can save desired hotel profiles.
3. Degree of discount: the comparison slider.
4. Google user reviews: emphasis on Google content rather than the third-party review providers such as TripAdvisor or Yapta.

Cole said it will be interesting to see how the “compared to typical” discount feature plays out especially with the seasonality of hotel pricing. “It will be very interesting to see what they use as an algorithm to back up the average pricing,” he said. “As a hotel, you don’t want every Friday to say, ‘we are 60% off.’ So what’s the basis? I think there will be some tweaking. … For Google to do that accurately across all properties is a challenge, but the concept is great.”

Read the Google blog on the project. (This page also provides a link for feedback, if you find your hotel information is missing or inaccurate on the Google Hotel Finder.)

The information on Google Hotel Finder comes from a variety of sources, according to Deanna Yick, spokesperson for Google. Reviews and star ratings come from Google users. Photos are provided by VFM Leonardo.

“For the price and booking links, we're working with a limited number of online travel agencies and hotel brands as part of our (existing) Hotel Price Ads beta,” she said. “You may have already seen hotel prices from those partners on Google.com and Google Maps, and they're also providing the price and availability data for this experimental product. We're excited to offer them a new way to connect with qualified leads. And as you've noticed, a hotel may also appear in the Hotel Finder Experiment even if it is doesn't have Hotel Price Ads. We use a variety of signals to generate a comprehensive set of high-quality hotel results and welcome feedback about missing hotels.”

It’s admittedly a work in progress, Yick said.

Starkov suggested independent hotel owners make sure their GDS providers are working with Google. Franchise properties should ask about the application programming interface access to the central reservation systems from major brands. He said you can see some cases of this integration in addition to OTA information.

Google is interested in serving real time pricing and availability, so if an OTA doesn’t have a hotel’s room availability, users will not see the OTA room rate listed, Starkov said. Also, if the franchise hotel just has a link to the brand homepage rather than the individual hotel’s booking engine, it puts a property at a disadvantage.

One suggestion from Starkov: Provide a coupon on Google. It’s a free service, and Google seems to favor businesses that take the time to create a value proposition, he said. “You’ll immediately have an advantage on Google mobile if you have a coupon,” he said.

NB This article first appeared on HotelNewsNow on 2nd August 2011 by Stacey Mieyal Higgins