26 Jul 2011

Hotels: How to include Google in your marketing mix

INTERNATIONAL REPORT—It’s the million dollar question right now for hotel online marketers: Is Google becoming a true distribution channel, and how should you be working with the search-engine giant to market your hotel rooms? The answers depend on a number of different factors.
David Brudney
David Brudney & Associates
First, most experts agree hoteliers already should be working with Google to take advantage of the search products offered, such as Google Maps, Google Places and Google AdWords. Sources have offered mixed reviews on the difficulties of using these products, but most agree they are low-cost ways to drive consumer traffic directly to a hotel’s own website, which is crucial in today’s evolving booking landscape.

Story Highlights
  • Google AdWords is a service that lets businesses create and run ads on Google’s advertising network.
  • Google Maps and Google Places allow business owners to update and manage their physical business location information.
  • With the introduction of Hotel Price Ads earlier this year, Google is now marketing itself to hoteliers as a true distribution channel.

Google AdWords is a service that lets businesses create and run ads on Google’s advertising network; businesses pay only when users click the ads. AdWords ads are displayed along with search results when users search Google using one of the purchased keywords. Ads appear under 'Sponsored links' in the side column of a search page, and may also appear in additional positions above the free, or “organic,” search results.

David Brudney, a hotel sales and marketing consultant, said most of his clients already are using AdWords to drive business to their hotels. He borrowed an analogy from one of his clients to describe AdWords’ success rate.

“It’s the grocery store analogy,” Brudney said. “Basically there’s an aisle for everything and AdWords allows you to get your product visible in as many aisles possible. If Coke wants to be where the cereals are and where the baking goods are, they can do that through a proactive ad campaign.”

The best proposition for using AdWords is that it drives more visitors to a hotelier’s own booking site, Brudney said. “The people who I have talked to … most hotels are using a combination of banner ads, email marketing and pay-per-click,” he said.

Brudney said Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide boasts returns of 23 to 1 using Google AdWords. “I’m told the reason is most of the keywords are branded, such as ‘Sheraton’ and ‘Heavenly Bed,’” he said. “Those are branded keywords, so naturally there would be a high (return on investment).”

Google Maps/Google Places

Google Maps and Google Places allow business owners to update and manage their physical business location information. Updating these listings ensure the information appears correctly within Google Maps and associated Google products.
Michael Menis
InterContinental Hotels Group
To edit business information on Google, hoteliers can visit maps.google.com and search for their hotel by address. Logging in as the individual owner will give more options to edit, such as business name, contact information, payment types, hours, etc. Once information is published, Google will call the hotel immediately with a five-digit validation code. Then hoteliers can visit google.com/places where they will see a dashboard of their information and can enter the five-digit code.

At InterContinental Hotels Group, the franchisor manages most online marketing for the individual franchisees. Michael Menis, VP of Web and interactive marketing, said Google Places listings are managed centrally by the parent company, and if hotel owners were to get involved, they’d be going above and beyond.

“We feed to Google all of our hotels for inclusion in their Places product,” he said.

Hotel Price Ads
With the introduction of Hotel Price Ads last year, Google is now marketing itself to hoteliers as a true distribution channel. The company is careful not to call itself an online travel agency, because its product is sold on a pay-per-click model rather than a commission-based transactions model.

With Hotel Price Ads, Google started to show hotel prices next to organic search results in Google Search, Maps and Places pages. Users can enter dates for their trips to see real-time prices on selected listings. Clicking on the price reveals a list of partners who have provided pricing information for the hotel—OTAs, brands or individual hotels. Users can click through a deep link—a link to a page within a site rather than the home page—to reserve a room on the partner’s site.

“Google is testing a number of different placements,” Menis said. “The program is really still in its infancy.”

Hoteliers and brands can get their websites in that list for free, but to have rates and availability appear they must contract with Google on a pay-per-click basis. Only a handful of smaller central reservations service providers are currently linked with Google, so most of the rates available now appear courtesy of OTAs.

The Hotel Price Ads pricing structure is percentage-based, calculated by multiplying the room rate and the length of stay (i.e. the total value of the itinerary). For example, if a user enters into the Google widget that he or she wants to stay two nights at a hotel that costs US$100, the room supplier that receives the click-through is charged a percentage on US$200—regardless of whether that user ultimately books a hotel room.

Kristin Intress
Along with most hotel brands, InnLink, a CRS that serves a mix of independent hotels and about 12 chains—including Guesthouse Inns, Hotels and Suites and Settle Inns and Suites—is monitoring the Hotel Price Ads product closely.

Kristin Intress, president and CEO, said Google’s Hotel Price Ads pricing model is still evolving. She is working with Google to acknowledge certain risks before making all of her clients available on the channel. Based on the percentage pricing structure, Intress said costs can add up quickly. She is uncertain whether hoteliers will be able to set a monthly limit on what they spend.

“That’s my biggest resistance: I have to be able to give assurance to my hotel that’s there’s going to be a ceiling,” she said.

However, Intress acknowledged that travelers have gravitated to search engines to research travel and that Google’s Hotel Price Ads is in a prime position to capture booking business. Without partnering with Google to offer rates and availability, hoteliers are running the risk of users being directed from Google to an OTA and the hotelier paying more for the booking in the long run.

In addition, Intress said she has heard from industry peers working with Google that the conversion rate for users clicking on a link within the Hotel Price Ads widget is high.

Users are “specifically looking for something in that area and that region,” she said.

This article first appeared on HotelNewsNow.com