Calling integration of travel content into site and portal a success worthy of expansion, Google is adding direct booking features, including into Google Maps, to help fill hotel rooms in 2022.
Noting in a March 16 blog post that searches like “spring vacation” and “flights to Hawaii” are now tracking at near pre-pandemic levels, Google said, “As travel interest rebounds, businesses need easy ways to connect with potential customers [so] we’re announcing new tools to help hoteliers find people who are ready to book their next trip.”
Building on an initiative launched in Q1 2021, when Google made it free for hotels and travel companies to appear alongside hotel booking links to access better details and hotel price insights, the new features take it a step further into converting searchers into bookers.
Offering the example of booking engine myhotelshop — where incremental bookings rose 30% in summer 2021 — as evidence of what direct contextual links can do to boost a hotel’s top line, Google is adding free links for hotels and online travel agencies (OTAs) to Maps and more.
“Free booking links appear on the hotel booking module alongside hotel ads when travelers look for rooms at a given hotel,” Google said. “Travelers will have more options for booking a hotel at the best rate available, while travel companies have a new, free way to drive more bookings.”
Free links show the OTA or booking partner name and room rate. Google says it doesn’t collect payment for placement or user engagement with the links.
On the back end, a reporting feature lets partners see how many people clicked on the free links. Google said it plans to expand the feature to include other metrics soon to give hotels more incentive to integrate the new travel search functionality.
Businesses with a verified profile can also message customers directly through the Google Maps app, the news site Search Engine Journal reported, and Google plans to roll out similar features on its Search pages, as well.
Millions of Bookings in the Balance
The travel industry news site Skift reported, “To some extent, this democratizes the booking options in Google Search when looking for specific hotels because online travel agencies such as Expedia and Booking.com, each with billions of dollars in their coffers to spend on advertising to gain customers, have dominated travel advertising on Google, even making weak advertising competitors out of big hotel chains, which are certainly no slouches.”
Skift added that, “Smaller online travel agencies and hotels will undoubtably see their bookings sourced from Google increase, just as they have when Google similarly added free booking links to supplement advertising in Google Travel.”
Mapping and Missteps
Not everyone sees it as a win. Skift quoted Kayak CEO Steve Hafner saying, “Seems like an easy PR move from Google and unfortunately consistent with their past opacity. Only Google will know what traction these free links will receive, and what impact they have on the ad auction. I wouldn’t expect much — especially if they start missing a quarter.”
The timing is right for good news, especially pertaining to Google Maps.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is accelerating its investigation into whether Google Maps’ practice of bundling the service with other Google software goes against anti-competition practices, Reuters reported Wednesday (March 30).
See also: DOJ Ramps up Google Maps Investigation